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The impact of the current coronavirus pandemic on blind and partially sighted people worldwide

The impact of the current coronavirus pandemic on blind and partially sighted people worldwide

A Introduction

This report seeks to provide a succinct overview of the main difficulties people who are blind or partially sighted are currently facing as a result of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictive measures adopted by governments to counter the disease.

In order to do this, information has been collated from the applications received by the International Blind Football Foundation (IBFF) in response to its Urgent Grant Programme. The IBFF programme, launched in April, offered grants of up to 2 000 US Dollars to organisations in a bid to combat the impact of the pandemic and subsequent medical, social and economic crisis. A special focus was placed on projects to purchase IT equipment and tools and devices to facilitate communication.

In total 30 applications were received from 22 countries. Of the 22 countries and according to the United Nations Human Development Index for 2019[1], seven have a very high human development (Argentina, Greece, Hong Kong, Romania, Italy, Montenegro, Russian Federation), three enjoy high human development (Mexico, Mongolia, Philippines), five are in the medium human development category (Cameroon, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe), and the remaining seven have low human development (Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Niger).

Seven projects from six countries (Argentina, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Nepal and Zimbabwe) were selected to receive support.

B Projects submitted: diagnosis of the problem and proposed solution

Afghanistan

The government lacks resources and visually impaired people have suffered a loss of income during the crisis and are feeling isolated and alone. Also, the normal services they receive have been suspended.

The association will purchase a laptop and mobile phones for members to use to overcome the problems set out above.

Argentina 1

Visually impaired people are particularly vulnerable at the present time and they lack resources to deal with the situation.

They require support for the four sports they develop, for instance to purchase blind footballs, masks, etc., in order to continue training, thus giving their athletes the opportunity to participate in various regional and national competitions in the future.

Argentina 2

The agency’s athletes are suffering economically from the lockdown measures and experiencing isolation. Some are cut off due to a lack of financial resources to acquire communication tools.

The project involves purchasing five mobile phones for the players to communicate and a laptop for co-ordination, as part of a strategy to enable the athletes to continue training and studying and also to be able to monitor their health.

Argentina 3

Due to the pandemic there is lack of communication between athletes and their coaches, and social isolation makes it difficult for coaches to assess athletes’ performance as they train alone.

To overcome the communication breakdown between athletes (and especially those in rural areas) in national teams and coaches and enable them to continue training, FADEC intends to purchase and distribute data packages, smartphones, personal fitness devices to generate data accessible to athletes and coaches, GPS trackers and biomechanical software to monitor movements and avoid injuries.

Argentina 4

Due to limited financial resources, some athletes lack devices and means to keep up contact and communication with the team. Some are vulnerable and suffering isolation.

Devices (smartphones and laptops) will be purchased and distributed to ensure all members of the blind football team are connected and in communication and can take part in the club’s on-line training programme and social and recreational activities.

Argentina 5

The club’s athletes are subject to social isolation due to lockdown measures and cannot communicate due to a lack of devices and/or resources.

The club will provide smartphones for athletes to be able to continue their training regimes and also to communicate with families, thus avoiding psychological and health problems.

Argentina 6

Lockdown has led to a cessation of regular activities such as weekly training sessions and interprovincial competitions. Also, income and sponsorship revenue have decreased due to the present crisis.

The foundation wishes to renovate its newly acquired office space to serve as a base for its sports activities. It intends to create a training centre, generate employment for VI people and equip the office.

Cameroon

A lack of awareness and a sense of disbelief mean some people do not know about the virus and its dangers.

The federation wishes to acquire communication tools for staff for home working and to communicate with and raise awareness among athletes, media, etc., via audio transmissions, video calls, webinars and TV shows, among others.

Ethiopia

Despite the closure of schools and universities, education continues via radio, television and social media. However, content is often not accessible for VI students, who are therefore excluded.

The project aims to create an accessible resource centre on the association web site offering course contents to ensure blind and partially sighted university and high school students can continue to study during the pandemic. This avoids students having to go to the office to pick up existing material.

Greece

Lockdown measures are preventing beneficiaries of the courses the organisation offers from attending class.

An accessible on-line training platform will be provided to enable visually impaired people to study the organisation’s e-learning courses during the current crisis. Computers and other technical devices will be purchased to deliver the training courses. In the long-term, following the pandemic the platform will remain in place to offer courses to all, including those in remote areas and islands.

Greece

The temporary closure of schools in the country means the organisation cannot deliver its on-site programmes as scheduled.

The project, aimed at visually impaired students between the ages of 6 and 12 years old in both mainstream schools and schools for the blind in Athens and Thessaloniki, involves publishing and distributing 50 copies of a children’s book in braille and tactile formats to promote its mini blind football project.

Hong Kong

The visually impaired population is unable to access regular services (social services and community activities) during lock-down and stay-at-home measures. They are prone to feel isolated and lonely, leading to anxiety and other mental health problems.

The project aims to provide on-line programmes for this population, including e-learning programmes, webinars, social support groups and vocational training workshops.

Italy

Much remains to be done to develop fully blind football in Italy.

The project is to provide sports equipment to blind footballers, enabling them to continue training during the pandemic. This equipment will offer coaches information to gauge results, and the ultimate goal is to adopt a more professional approach to training.

Ivory Coast

A lack of information and awareness about the virus can cause distress among visually impaired people.

The project is to update the organisation’s communication tools to strengthen its work in this area with its eight blind sports clubs, providing a more efficient service. FISMA intends to use social media to create an information platform to push out accessible information for the benefit of its clubs, who will receive internet access until October 2020.

Liberia

Due to discriminatory attitudes, the visually impaired population is excluded from the responses to the current health and humanitarian crises, thus leading to enhanced vulnerability.

The association wishes to provide accessible health information on COVID-19 via social media and community radio stations to visually impaired users in three counties in Liberian English and indigenous languages to raise awareness about the dangers of the disease. In addition, the project will donate basic equipment (facemasks, buckets with taps, soap, etc.,) to the visually impaired population living in rural areas and slums with no running water to enable them to follow hygiene recommendations to wash their hands regularly.

Madagascar

Blind people are often forgotten by the government and even by disability sports organisations. The association is interested in introducing blind football, but they lack funds to purchase equipment and technical expertise. Visually impaired people cannot access COVID-19 awareness campaigns, so they do not know what to do in the face of the danger and are very vulnerable.

The aim of the project is to develop blind sports in Madagascar to be able to take part in national and international competitions, and to advocate with the government for the rights of visually impaired people to be respected, To do this, accessible adverts will be produced.

Mexico

The restrictive measures in place have led to increased isolation, dependency, segregation and inactivity for blind people.

The project aims to create accessible social media content, including podcasts, Instagram programmes, football training videos and on-line Zoom training sessions. The organisation plans to develop a communication channel and content addressed to blind people in Mexico on YouTube. To achieve these aims, a camera, laptop and other equipment will be purchased to produce professional-standard content.

Mongolia

Most information on COVID-19 is not accessible for people with a visual impairment. The federation runs its own radio station, Best FM, but as it is only available in 10 of the country’s 21 provinces many members lose out. According to government rules, mothers of children under 12 must stay at home, but the federation employees in this situation do not have computers, making it difficult for the federation to continue to operate.

The goal is to improve the accessibility of information on COVID-19 and ensure the sustainability of the organisation during the current pandemic by providing facilities for homeworking. To do this, eleven radio antennas will be installed to provide a nationwide signal and three laptops and modems will be purchased.

Montenegro

COVID-19 has curtailed an important part of the services the union offers to its members.

Purchase equipment, including a projector, a television set and a laptop, to be able to offer counselling, webinars, training courses, etc., to members.

Nepal

Many VI people in the country work in the informal economy, selling in the streets, and live in precarious housing on the outskirts of cities, where they have been forced to migrate from rural areas.

The project aims to provide personal protective equipment, such as facemasks, gloves and hand sanitiser, to 100 visually impaired people across the country who need to have contact with others to earn a living in the informal economy, such as street peddlers. Also, a laptop and mobile phone will be acquired to facilitate the dissemination of information to the visually impaired population and keep a record of the situation nationwide.

Nigeria

As Lagos is one of the worst-affected areas in the country, the association has opened a second office in Gombe State in the north of the country.

The association wishes to purchase IT equipment to equip the new office and better deliver its services and projects to the almost half a million members of the association, and in particular to those in rural settings.

Pakistan

Lockdown restrictions means most people are confined at home and cannot take part in face-to-face training sessions or coach education seminars.

The project aims to secure equipment, including a projector, laptops, cameras and a microphone, to be able to provide on-line training programmes to blind footballers and coaches, and promote employment.

Romania

Many families of VI children cannot afford to buy equipment and devices to allow them to continue their studies at home.

The association will provide IT equipment to two visually impaired children with a good academic record so that they can continue to learn on-line during the pandemic. Training will also be provided.

Russia

Many people with disabilities do not know about the sporting options open to them due to a lack of information and awareness.

The project goal is to raise awareness about disability football, and in particular blind football, in Russia by disseminating on-line content (news items, videos and photographs), taking advantage of the fact that the population is presently in lockdown at home. This will lead to a greater integration of people with disabilities in society.

Zimbabwe 1

There is a lack of awareness among the visually impaired population about COVID-19 and its impact on health. In addition, information is often not made available in accessible formats. There is an urgent need to offer information in accessible formats or they will be excluded from responses to the pandemic. Furthermore, many work in the informal sector selling in the streets, or beg for money, and lockdown measures mean their subsistence is compromised to the point where many face the risk of starvation.

Smart phones and a laptop will be sourced to facilitate information in accessible formats, including information on the proper use of personal protective equipment, and also used to build up a database of vulnerable families with all types of disability in order to distribute emergency food packages the league has secured.

Zimbabwe 2

There is a need to adapt to current circumstances and remain in lockdown, respect social distancing, avoid crowds and ensure hygiene recommendations are followed.

The project is aimed at blind footballers in the country and will provide information on COVID-19 and a way to continue athletes’ training programmes and monitor their progress during lockdown. To this end, mobile phones, a laptop, modems and internet access will be purchased. These tools will also help to raise awareness about the organisation and Paralympic sport.

C Conclusions

An analysis of the projects submitted show that people who are blind or partially sighted find themselves in a particularly precarious situation during the current pandemic, and that this is undoubtedly due to their disability.

A number of recurring difficulties can be identified, and the following is a round-up of the most common and harmful obstacles currently being faced by visually impaired people worldwide:

1 Barriers to communication and resulting isolation: the restrictive measures imposed by authorities in the majority of countries, involving lockdown and instructions to stay-at-home, have led to a heightened sense of isolation among the visually impaired populations. We must remember that blindness and low vision is, in itself and under normal circumstances, a cause of social isolation as many find it difficult to establish and maintain social relations.

Depending on the characteristics of each country, the solutions suggested in the projects to ensure visually impaired people enjoy communication with the outside world range from hi-tech options such as laptops and mobile phones to low-tech solutions such as radio antennas.

2 Shortage of resources to facilitate communication: economic activity rates among the visually impaired population are traditionally lower than for people without disabilities. When they have a job, it tends to be a lower paid position. Two of the countries specifically mention how blind and partially sighted people earn a living in the informal economy from street peddling, and even from begging in the street, and these people’s income has been affected by lockdown and the need to maintain social distancing.

Consequently, many visually impaired people lack the financial resources needed to acquire and maintain devices used for modern-day communication, such as computers and smart phones. As they cannot communicate, their feelings of loneliness and isolation are aggravated. Visually impaired people in rural areas are particularly affected because, although they tend to enjoy closer family and community ties than people living in large cities, internet and mobile phone connections are generally less reliable.

3 Lack of awareness due to inaccessibility: the initial responses to the outbreak of the coronavirus by public authorities, international organisations and other key stakeholders failed to consider accessibility requirements. As a result, a large portion of the estimated 15% of the world’s population with a disability[2] was excluded from the public health recommendations and other public information messaging at a critical moment, when restrictive measures were introduced and public authorities were issuing information and instructions on how to curtail the spread of the virus.

Thanks to intense lobbying efforts from international advocacy organisations such as the International Disability Alliance and, in the case of the visually impaired, the World Blind Union, public health messages began to become more accessible and information was made available in alternative formats accessible to people with disabilities, such as through captioning, information in easy-to-read formats and audio-description

However, the initial exclusion of people with disabilities led to a lack of awareness in some parts of the world which has yet to be fully remedied. This is mentioned with particular reference to blind and partially sighted people by a number of organisations in their grant applications.

4 Lack of basic resources in some countries: some of the least developed countries report in their applications that their visually impaired populations are experiencing a shortage of even the most basic goods and amenities in the face of COVID-19, such as personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, etc.) and adequate sanitation (running water). While the applications to not state so explicitly, it is safe to assume that prejudices and discriminatory attitudes lead to the visually impaired communities being excluded from or at least deprioritised in the public provision of such goods and amenities.

5 Barriers to education and training options: several of the projects focused on the need to ensure visually impaired people were able to continue studying and learning despite the current situation, as well as the necessity to guarantee the availability of accessible course and training material.

6 Minimum opportunities to continue sports training: sportswomen and sportsmen worldwide, both with and without disabilities, have been deprived of the opportunity to follow their regular training programmes due to the restrictions in place. Everyone has had to adapt to the closure of sports facilities, gymnasiums and parks and find new ways to train and keep fit, such as on-line classes.

However, visually impaired athletes have been impacted disproportionately by lockdown because they require adapted and accessible solutions to keep up their training regimes, and many of the mainstream options are not suitable to them. This is why they currently depend even more on the expertise offered by blind sports organisations and their coaches.

As is common in these situations, many of the difficulties and obstacles mentioned in this section interact and intersect to further aggravate the situation. So, for instance, a lack of financial resources means it is not possible to purchase devices to access information, which leads to lack of awareness, which leads to an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.

In conclusion, due to the problems blind and partially sighted people are presently facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, they find themselves in a situation of heightened vulnerability in the face of (i) the risk of contracting coronavirus and developing COVID-19, (ii) the risk of exacerbated social exclusion in a number of areas if their needs are not considered and met, and (ii) the post-pandemic social and economic crisis which we can expect to witness over the coming months and indeed years.

 
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