(The following article was published in the Star Advertiser on August 24, 2020 where Cassie Ordonio interviews multiple blind community members, including GDH Director Jeanne Torres, who are navigating the changes of COVID-19.)
For eight years, the world slowly disappeared for Mary Bafile. After she was diagnosed with macular degeneration, Bafile lost 90% of her vision.
Now blind during the coronavirus pandemic, the 73-year-old Hilo resident has to navigate a learning curve while keeping herself safe from the virus.
“I’m afraid to get too close to people because at my age I won’t survive it,” she said.
As a congenitally blind person, it has become obvious to me that my reliance on touch as a primary mode of experiencing the world puts me at odds with current best practices for avoiding the coronavirus. The principle guidance for safeguarding against COVID-19 is to (1) curtail physical contact with those around us (or the things they touch), (2) limit touching of our body (especially of the face), and (3) maintain a minimum proximity bubble during social interactions (ideally of 6-feet or more). In this essay, I discuss how an unanticipated consequence of following this tri-part guidance for staying ‘safe’ is the effective demonization of touch, which has led to many unforeseen challenges for more than 12 million people in the U.S. (and over 285 million people worldwide) who are blind or visually impaired (BVI).