Living with Low-Vision & COVID-19: A Guide to Coping

Living with Low-Vision and the Coronavirus: A Guide to Coping

Editorial by Dan Phillips and John Enders, Social Workers at CABVI

The coronavirus outbreak caused us to worry about our well-being and the safety of our children, parents, and loved ones. These are stressful times. It is natural to feel overwhelmed by how the coronavirus affected our lives. For people with vision loss, the impact of COVID can be more significant. However, there are steps people with vision loss can take to cope with fearful thoughts and feelings connected to the virus.  

First, to cope with the disease, be mindful of stressful responses that deviate from healthy behaviors. These may include:

  • Excessive fear and worry about your health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

Specific Steps to Cope with Stress Related to the Coronavirus:
Talk openly and honestly with people about how your low-vision impacts your ability to cope with the coronavirus. “I had legitimate concerns about using public transportation. Therefore, my wife and I worked out a schedule so she could bring me to work daily,” said John. If you need to use public transit, carry hand sanitizer with you, or ask the bus driver to let you know if someone is getting too close. “I cannot see if people are wearing masks. Therefore, I often inquire whether they are wearing a mask, which alleviates my tension.”

Dan relies on his listening skills to determine whether someone has their face covered. “If their voice sounds slightly muffled, I know I am in the clear.” Cane users can use their cane to determine how close people are to them. Dan’s cane is 56 inches long. “If my cane touches someone, I know that person is too close to me,” Dan says. During the pandemic, be assertive and let people know what they can do to create safe environments where your low-vision needs are met.  
We know social isolation is a major stressor facing people with low-vision. The onset of the pandemic intensified this problem for people living with blindness. Research shows one of the best ways for people with low vision to cope with COVID-related stress is to share their worries with a trusted person. According to Dan, “I recall periods in my life when I was reluctant to ask people for assistance. I feared they would view problems associated with my vision loss as burdensome. Experience has taught me that some people want to, and enjoy, helping me tackle problems connected to my lack of sight.” Again, research indicates some of the happiest people are those who routinely engage in acts of kindness towards one another. Dan and I are here to help!   
Engage in fun activities or start a new hobby. Dan is taking this opportunity to learn to play the piano. The pandemic is a wonderful opportunity to take on challenges you put off because of the lack of time. 
Keep your routines in place. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Many fitness centers are closed, but try to find ways to exercise at home. “Dan and I like to go for nature walks with our friends and family. It is a great way to exercise and spend time with people we love. We are better able to cope with stress when we are well-rested and have an exercise routine,” said John. 
Reflect on how you pushed through tough times in the past. Remembering what we did to cope with stressful times is a great way to manage struggles related to the virus. During stressful periods, we often underestimate our ability to handle tough circumstances and simultaneously overestimate the severity of the problems we face. Remember the concrete steps you took in the past to get through troubled waters.  
Give yourself permission to be anxious about the virus. It is okay, and to be expected that you are going to feel frightened right now. The simple act of genuinely accepting how you feel, without judgment, can help manage your COVID worries. Your thoughts and fears are temporary; they often fade away from your consciousness naturally. 
Finally, we are all in this together. We will overcome and grow from these challenging times. As Helen Keller said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Dan Phillips is a bachelor’s level social worker at CABVI who is legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP). With his positive attitude, personal experiences with vision loss, and many years in the field of social work, Dan strives to help others adjust successfully.  Dan continues to seek new ways to help people who are blind or visually impaired. Since joining CABVI, Dan expanded his roles into assistive technology and public policy.

John Enders is a licensed social worker.  He is experienced at helping people with low vision cope with stressors related to their lack of sight.  Due to his own lack of vision, he has a special connection to the consumers he serves. Being able to convey his personal and professional experiences to help others is highly rewarding for him. 

Published August 2020

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