COVID-19 and Vision Loss Part 2

In this episode, we continue the conversation on living during the COVID-19 pandemic with a visual impairment. Listen in as we share some experiences, tips, and strategies for coping during these difficult times.

April 3, 2020

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Audio Transcript

Hadley Presents

COVID-19 and Vision Loss Part 2

Presented by Ricky Enger

Ricky Enger: Welcome to Hadley Presents. I'm your host Ricky hanger, inviting you to sit back, relax and enjoy a conversation with the experts. In the second in our COVID-19 series we discuss low tech tips and tricks for daily life during the pandemic. And joining us is Hadley learning expert, Jennifer Ottowitz. Welcome to the show Jennifer.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Hi Ricky. Thanks for the chance to talk with you.

Ricky Enger: Indeed. And for those who are not familiar with you, how about just a quick intro?

Jennifer Ottowitz: I am senior learning expert with Hadley. I teach several different courses. I co-host one of our discussion groups. I've had the good fortune to be involved with a couple other Hadley Presents podcasts. I'm a certified vision rehabilitation therapist by trade and as a person who is visually impaired myself, I'm understanding firsthand how to manage life during these times with a visual impairment.

Ricky Enger: So if you haven't listened to the first in our series, you can do that. It's with Lisa Salinger and myself and we discuss a number of things and not necessarily by design, but we did that from more of a high-tech perspective. And so this will be, I suppose more just things you would encounter in daily life, whether you're using technology or not. And, the one thing that we discussed in that previous podcast was getting out and about if you have to, and we talked about if you have to have sighted guide where people have been coughing into their elbows. What do you do? So if you're curious about tips on taking sighted guide or just traveling safely with someone, you might check out that podcast. But what if you are going out on your own to get grocery shopping done and things like that? How are things different out there with the pandemic?

Jennifer Ottowitz: So many stores have implemented, are trying to maintain social distancing for the customers that they are allowing into their stores. And so a lot of times they put marks on the floor, maybe an X or some other kind of mark where you're supposed to stand. But how do you handle that if you have trouble seeing those marks? Because a lot of times we might need to get closer to items to see them. A couple of things that might be helpful if you do use a white cane, knowing the length of your cane and using that as a guide. I'm short, so my cane is 48 inches long, which is four feet. So for me that six-foot social distance that they're talking about is a cane and a half length.

Otherwise, it's really about, kind of using your ears just to listen to folks around you, making sure that you're keeping your distance and then just using your voice and asking folks, "I'm not quite sure where to stand. Is this the right place? I don't mean to get too close to you. Am I far enough away from you? Is it okay if I approach the counter?" Because it's hard to know if you're buying something from the deli or getting a prescription from the pharmacist, am I allowed to walk up to the counter and take it from them? Are they putting it someplace where I'm supposed to pick it up and it's limited contact? So, just be a good self-advocate and ask, because I know some stores too, as the time goes on are changing things, they used to not have plastic shields up by the cashiers. Now many stores are doing that.

So, it's also good to keep tabs on your local news sources because a lot of times they'll share these announcements so you'll have an understanding of what may be happening in the environment. And of course, it's been said a lot, really think about going out only if you absolutely have to. If you can find assistance, getting things delivered, you can call. You don't always have to have the app to do the ordering online, but that certainly does help and it's a great way to do that. But you might be able to contact the stores themselves to see about delivery options and maybe it's the time to turn to family and friends to go out. You don't necessarily have to go with them. Limits up the people that are actually out and about too.

Ricky Enger: It's allergy season as we're recording this and we wake up with sniffles and sometimes sore throats and it's a strange to think about right now, but at some point it may turn out that you actually contact your doctor and your doctor determines that it is medically advisable for you to get tested for COVID-19 but of course you don't want to be taking ride shares and things like that. What are the options then? Because you're not going to be driving yourself.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Absolutely and no, you should not take ride sharing. You should not take taxis. You should not take public transportation and you really should not rely on a family member or friend and put them at risk. So I do know that, in a lot of areas there's something called MediCab service and folks may not always know about it. The first thing you always want to do, if you have symptoms of course, before you even get to the transportation part, contact your primary care physician. They are going to ask you a lot of questions and assess whether or not you should be tested. Because a lot of times, like you said, we have these symptoms, but they may be due to other health conditions, so they'll determine if you should get tested, let them know right away, "I'm a person with a disability, I do not drive. What are my options?" And MediCab services might be one, that's a nonemergency medical transport service. So, it might be an ambulance or other vehicle, but people come and will transport you. They're already in protective gear and so it's a little different than taking ride share or a taxi. Other options may include home testing. I know in my area there's a company that's doing home testing and so they will actually send people out to your house in protective gear to administer the test to you. So hopefully your doctor will be able to advise you about some of these options.

Ricky Enger: And there's a concern that many in the general public may not have to think about so much, but some of us who do not use a cane and use a guide dog instead, we've got to think about, "What happens if I'm sick, how do I care for my guide dog?" That's a thing that certainly they're not going to talk about on the news, but it's a very real concern.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Right, and of course your animals still need care and so you may think about even before you get symptoms or might get sick, is there someone that can help take care of my dog, if I do get to the point where it's not in the best interest of me and my animal to take care of them myself? You want to limit the contact with the animal as much as possible. It's hard because they recommend that petting or snuggling, having the dog lick you or kiss you. That may be a little harder, easier said than done kind of thing. But you definitely want to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water that the good old 20 seconds everyone's talking about, before and after you interact with your animal.

Ricky Enger: And then just like you said, having that backup plan for who can I leave my dog with? Who do I trust if something should happen? And having that in place before you actually need it with the hope that you never do need it, that's going to make things a lot easier than if you are suddenly finding yourself sick and then trying to figure out with a high fever, "What do I do about my animal?"

Jennifer Ottowitz: Absolutely. And they also recommend, of course if you are sick trying your best not to cough or sneeze directly around your animal. Again, that may be sometimes easier said than done, but taking all those precautions. And at this point they're saying that the virus is possible but highly unlikely at the animals will contract the virus from you and you from them. But we definitely want to keep them safe as much as we do ourselves.

Ricky Enger: So we've talked a lot about how things can be different with a visual impairment in terms of dealing with this pandemic then if you don't have a disability, but what if you actually have additional disabilities? Like what if you have a hearing loss in addition to visual impairment, are there differences in how you approach things during a pandemic?

Jennifer Ottowitz: So, many folks have hearing loss in addition to a visual impairment, especially older adults. And now that we're primarily communicating over the phone, we're using computer audio and even when we do have face to face contact, it's at a greater physical distance. This can make communicating a little more challenging if you do have trouble with your hearing. And so just a couple of tips that might be helpful. The first is to let people know if you don't understand something. A lot of times it's easy just to pretend that we do. It's hard to admit to ourselves that we may be experiencing a little trouble hearing and admit to others, but it's really something that would be helpful in letting other people know how best to communicate with you. You don't want to miss information. You don't want to get something incorrect. Make decisions based on incorrect information or share incorrect information with others. So let people know, "I have trouble hearing. I didn't understand what you said." You can ask folks to slow down, especially when we're talking on the phone. It's not always about the volume only, but how fast somebody talks and just asking them to slow down. "I'm having trouble understanding you." You can ask someone to spell a word if you're not quite understanding and you can even help out. You can say, "Do you mean B as in Bravo or V as in Victor?" And you can do this with numbers too because sometimes it's hard to distinguish numbers. For example, if you were talking to me about a time and we're going to call me tomorrow and you said I'll call you at 8:15 but I didn't understand it. I wasn't quite sure I asked her to repeat it. I still didn't understand. I might say, "Ricky did you mean, eight one five or eight five zero.

Ricky Enger: So just a different way of clarifying things. And being okay with asking people to do that.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Exactly. Because, they will not know that they need to do it unless you let them know. And you can ask them to rephrase something. And I know that sounds awkward to just say, "Can you rephrase that please?" But what you could say is, "I'm sorry, I'm having trouble hearing you. I'm not quite understanding what you're saying. Can you say it in a different way?"

Ricky Enger: Yeah. Because some phrases just sound equally strange to you every time they're repeated and you just keep saying, "Say that again. Say that again." It's not going to work. So getting someone to rephrase that makes a lot of sense.

Jennifer Ottowitz: A lot of times we'll say, in baseball is three strikes and you're out, with repeating it's two strikes. So, if you didn't get it after the second time, you've asked them to repeat it, ask them to say it in a different way. And then you can stop along the way too, and try to summarize. Say, "Okay, wait, let me make sure I understand everything correctly." And then you repeat it back the best way that you understand it.

Ricky Enger: So, I don't know about you, but I have found that as I'm shopping, there are things that I usually cook that just aren't available. I also find myself getting more shelf-stable things and things that might go in the freezer as opposed to things that are more perishable. And so that's probably pretty common I would think right now. So how do we deal with maybe cooking unfamiliar things and not knowing the directions on the packaging and things like that?

Jennifer Ottowitz: Convenience foods are, in lot of ways, the first thing is to go off the shelf, but when you get them, they're so easy to make and stocking up on them when you can is so helpful. But yes, especially if you're not used to buying them. How long do I cook it? Are there any special instructions I have to do for it? And there are a couple of resources. These do involve technology but they're really helpful. There is a website called, And that's directions and F-O-R me. Written all as one word, no spaces .O-R-G and this website will provide product package information including cooking times, nutritional information for thousands of different products. Now it's not guaranteed every product known to man will be in there but it's a good resource to look up that information.

And then of course there are a variety of apps that you could use. Be My Eyes, Aira, Seeing AI, may be able to scan the package and have it read the directions to you. So there are several different options there, may be able to face time someone, again, if you're used to using smartphone technology, that might be an option too.

Ricky Enger: Now, if you are accustomed to, maybe you have a magnifier or a CCTV that you use to read these directions. So you're taking the low-tech approach. Maybe you're thinking about, "How do I keep this equipment clean and protect myself adequately during this time?" And is it possible to clean it with the wrong thing or over clean it or whatever. So what are some tips for that kind of equipment, your magnifiers or other assistive technology?

Jennifer Ottowitz: One thing that happens too is sometimes people share those devices, like a video magnifier that might be in a senior housing facility. There's one video magnifier that's available for everybody to use. So you want to wipe it down after you use it before you use it. You can use the alcohol wipes, the Lysol-type wipes, disinfecting wipes, to wipe it down and think about the parts that you touch, all the knobs and controls the XY table that moves it. Same with your magnifier. Definitely the handle. You always do want to clean the lenses of your magnifiers periodically just so you can see things more clearly. And those mild soap and water work best on the actual lenses, but on the handles, that's a good place to use the disinfecting wipes.

Ricky Enger: I think the same would be true if you have a braille display and you always want to wash your hands anyway before you use it. And especially if you're sharing it, which it's less common than with video magnifiers, but if you're sharing it or you use it while you're out and about and then you come home, you can gently wipe those down as well.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Definitely, and I've thought about dusting all these things but not necessarily disinfecting them before. So now's the time to really make sure that they're disinfected too.

Ricky Enger: So let's be real. Like we want to stay informed and that's why we do podcasts like this to keep ourselves and other people informed, and we watch the news and we read the local paper and all this stuff. But my gosh, at some point you just have enough, and you want to think about something aside from this pandemic. So what are some things that we can do, especially now that we're home a lot more, just to keep the stress down and to keep our minds occupied with something?

Jennifer Ottowitz: At first, it's all about making the adjustments. Finding new ways to do things, getting used to those new ways of doing things. And that in and of itself can be really stressful. And then it becomes about maintaining these behaviors. So you get in a groove, you don't have to like the groove, but you get into the groove. And it's about maintaining it over the long haul. How long are we going to have to keep doing things this way? And that can add stress and anxiety and a little bit of depression too. So I think it's really important to try to every day, find something that brings you joy. Find something that helps you feel productive and find ways to connected.

We're going to mention a couple of things related to being productive in just a minute. But one thing I wanted to say is, when you are engaging with people and interacting with people, I hope this is something that'll continue far beyond this crisis, is that we give each other the best gift we can. And that's our full undivided attention because I think we're so used to multitasking and when we're talking to someone, checking out the texts that are coming on the phone or other social media or emails or just being distracted by the environment around us and when you can really focus in on the conversation that you're having with someone. It's so meaningful to that person because they realize someone's actually listening to them.

In terms of being productive, it's a great time to catch up on you're reading, to catch up on listening to audio books, reading braille books. There's lots of great resources out there. The talking book services are a really great service. Things are changing every day. So, we recommend that you contact your local talking book service to find out what services they have available right now. In some states they've discontinued sending out players or discontinued sending out reading material, but that's not necessarily the case in all states. So, be sure to check with your local resources and there are other options for audio books too.

Staying physically active is another good thing. We can still get outside. We encourage you to get outside and get that fresh air, move around, take walks, do yard work. But inside or I guess if you choose to do your exercising outside too, there's some options for really good audio exercise programs. Blind Alive is one option and this would require a computer, or you can download their audio recordings to your smart devices, but they talk you through the routine. They explain all the different movements and positions that you need to do, and they have things from basic gentle stretches and chair yoga to more intense cardio workouts so that's a nice option.

Finishing projects that maybe you've been putting off for a long time because you never had time to do them. This is a great time to do them. I think are apartments and houses will probably never be more clean than they are now because it's a great time to clean out the closet, scrub the kitchen floor. Anything you can do just to help again feel productive. But when it comes to staying connected, The American Printing House for the Blind, APH, has what they call their APH Connect and this is a service that's available, 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Monday through Friday Eastern time. And they are available if you want information about resources related to vision lose or disability.

So maybe you want to know, what audio exercise programs are out there, what are some options for audio books, what type of services might be available in my area right now? They can help give you information about that. And it may be something I know. What if you have someone who comes and helps with cleaning because you have an additional disability that makes it really challenging to do the cleaning yourself. And so the APH connect can maybe give you information for your local independent living center, who could then put you in touch with resources or talk to you about your options. If your regular person who comes and cleans is not able to come. So there are good information and referral service. Their phone number is +1 800-232-5463.

Ricky Enger: And it's a fantastic resource that you can ask any question. Like if you've sat there and thought, "I really wish they would've covered this thing that I was wondering about in the podcast and we didn't because you know there was limited time." Then, APH is really a nice way to reach out and get some additional resources. So as we wrap up, Jennifer, do you have any final thoughts that you want to leave people with?

Jennifer Ottowitz: Well, I did just want to give a shout out to our international listeners. I know Hadley has quite a few international learners and this is a worldwide crisis and in other countries they are experiencing lockdowns and quarantines and restrictions too. And so just to let everyone know throughout the world that we are all hoping you stay safe, you stay healthy, that you do find that joy in every day, even with everything else going on. And that, as everyone is saying, we are definitely all in this together. And I really believe that if we say strong in spirit, we'll make it through.

Ricky Enger: Absolutely. Very well said. Just to reiterate what Jennifer said, stay safe. Continue to find that joy in life. And thank you so much for listening.

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