The coronavirus – creeping onto the world’s scene only a few short months ago and then exploding into our day-to-day lives. Every day we hear about the impact of corona and COVID-19 on – well, almost everyone. But how is it affecting disabled individuals? Today on Blind Abilities we explore just how blind and visually impaired individuals have experienced and adapted to corona and COVID-19.
In our previous episodes, we have circumvented the world, from Australia to Malaysia-
My name is Elise Lonsdale, and I’m from Northern Australia.
This is Chee Chau, from Malaysia.
Hi, my name’s Steve, and I’m from England.
-Trinidad and Tobago-
In this, our sixth episode in our series Around the World With COVID-19 From a Blindness Perspective, we come back to the United States of America-
Brooklyn Rodden Kelly:
-all the way to the West coast, where we meet Brooklyn Rodden Kelly. She will share her experiences with COVID-19, the impact on her personally, her California lifestyle, and the overall population in the state of California. And now, please welcome, Brooklyn Rodden Kelly.
American Newscaster (male):
On February 2nd, an individual came back to San Francisco International Airport, was picked up by their spouse, and brought back to their house in Sacramento County, where they actually, fortunately, self-isolated, were tested for this novel, new coronavirus, it came back positive yesterday afternoon.
American Newscaster (male) 2:
Are we prepared, as the number of confirmed cases and people in the hospital continues to increase?
American Newscaster (female):
Sacramento County Director of Health Services-
Sacramento County Director of Health Services:
There’s still limited testing, it is prioritized to those who are health care workers, who are exposed to the virus, and to those who are seniors, our vulnerable populations, that are very symptomatic. That’s all we can take care of right now.
American Newscaster (female):
For the general public interested in getting a test, you can go to private labs-
American Newscaster (male) 3:
All around California, we’ve seen these news stories coming out of big events being cancelled, there are travel restrictions some places, lots of decisions aimed at preventing mass gatherings. Here in Sacramento County, though, the Health Department – they’re relaxing rules on quarantines, and trying to focus on telling people to just stay home if you feel sick.
From the week of June 7 to the week of June 14, we saw a 24% increase of the number of new cases. A lot of the increase is due to gatherings.
American Newscaster (female) 2:
Sacramento County is seeing a spike in new coronavirus cases. We had a record 93 new cases that were added Saturday, but the rise in new cases comes as county health officials issue a new order which lets more businesses reopen.
Brooklyn Rodden Kelly:
I’m Brooklyn, and I’m from Sacramento, California, and I’m an essential employee. In fact, where I work, we call it mission essential. I’m a switchboard operator for the U.S. military – I can’t do my job from home, because the technology doesn’t support it, so I have to go in even while there’s a pandemic going on. I knew things were going to get interesting because I usually take Uber, train, and then taxi to get to work, and with the pandemic things started changing really quickly. So we ended up seeing the Amtrak schedule changing, where I could get to work but not home, so my coworker and I decided to start taking Uber to and from, partially because of the schedule but also because of our fears – we just weren’t really ready to get on a train and deal with that whole fear of just honestly not knowing who was around you, and it was scary.
Sometimes I’m using Aira checking to make sure the driver has a mask on, and sometimes I have to choose to take that trip whether I want to or not if the driver’s not wearing a mask, because I have to get places on time and I don’t have 15 minutes to wait for the next Uber. I can call Aira and say “Hey, is my driver wearing a mask?” They have a messaging system in their app where you can just click a button, say “I can’t talk right now,” and you can message them. You know, every morning, they get “Hi! Can’t talk, but can you tell me if my driver’s wearing a mask?” I was used to seeing Ubers every three to five minutes, and then one morning I started seeing them every 14 to 20 minutes, and then I had Uber drivers cancel, and all kinds of stuff.
I’m not wanting to go out and shop as much because of COVID, so I’ve been using a lot of Instacart, and a lot of Zoom. I’m a member of the NFB chapter here in Sacramento, and all of our meetings used to meet at the state capitol, and now we’re meeting virtual Zoom. Also, just having the ability to connect with people all across the country that I haven’t been able to connect with in a while, there have been small groups of us connecting via Zoom or on RS games, and have happy hours, and things like that. I miss going out and doing things, and hopefully that will change soon, but it’s brought a lot of us closer together because of technology and the internet, which I’m really grateful for.
In California, they just made masks mandatory everywhere – I don’t know how they’re going to enforce that, right? It’s a new policy, and it’s happening, so we have to honor that. Walking around with a mask now – I choose to wear it a lot because it just makes me feel safer. I’m really excited things are opening up – most people right now are excited about their haircuts, but I’m really excited because my guide dog had to be retired during COVID-19, and so that’s been a really difficult process for me. And what’s so neat is now that California’s starting to open back up, my guide dog school is in the middle of the bay area, so they’ve been shelter-in-place, and so now they’re opening back up, and I’m applying for a new guide, and when they find me that right match, I get to go on a new adventure not only with my guide, but the new training that they’ve implemented since COVID-19 started. We’ll see how it goes, and I really can’t wait.
American Newscaster (male) 4:
As Sacramento County’s new health order is now in effect, you can expect thousands more in our area to head back to work this morning-
-the county’s health order says they must all follow the statewide face covering order issued by Governor Newsom last week. This new phase of reopening comes when Sacramento County saw a big spike in cases over the weekend-
Brooklyn Rodden Kelly:
We are in phase three in California, so we’re starting to open up, so I was able to go get my hair done, and that was great. I felt safe, my hairdresser keeps it very clean, but she also works with other workers and that made me nervous, just the idea of more people coming in and out of the room. I keep talking about how I want to go to Trader Joe’s – I’m nervous about getting in the Uber and having to wait outside for my turn to go into the Trader Joe’s. It’s just one more added level to being visually impaired, right, another step we have to overcome. And we will!
I also miss going out and doing the things like going to a coffee shop, and just sitting with a friend and enjoying the day. It won’t be as carefree as before – I like to give, you know, my friends a hug, and now it’s like “Oh wait! Social distancing!” Everything is so different, and I just, I want to be able to go to a restaurant and not think twice and meet a friend for a coffee and be able to sit there without having that fear in the back of my mind.
Another thing is I was in the musician community for a long time, husband was a musician, and I want to be able to go out and see a show every now and then again, and right now there’s no shows booked anywhere, and so what does that mean for one, musicians, and two, us in general going out and having a good time with friends, it’s kind of sad that you can’t go out and see live entertainment anymore. And I’m sure all the musicians are chomping at the bits wanting to go out and play for a live audience – Zoom only gets you so far.
Our cases have gone up a lot more. I’ve gone to two restaurants – the first time I was with a friend who’s sighted, and then the second time I was with family, and I was very nervous about going inside, because I don’t want to get sick. For me, it’s challenging sometimes to walk out that door just like it is a lot of us being visually impaired. You don’t know what you’re going to run into. COVID-19 just makes it a little more challenging with everything. Social distancing is harder for us because we’re not able to see the person in front of us.
You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and really, we as blind people, we have it pretty made – it’s amazing that, you know, we have all these great services, but in some ways I feel like it’s, sort of, we’re going back three steps, we’re going backwards in time. Like, we have all these wonderful services to help us out, but I really hope it doesn’t stop us from getting out, and being what we can be and who we are, and showing the world that we can still be out there and enjoy life, because just because we can’t see or may not see all that great that we don’t have to be in the house all the time waiting for our groceries or whatever it may be. We can get out there and do it ourselves, and I just wonder how COVID will affect all that in the future, because I want to be that person that gets out and does, and not just has everything handed to me, and I think that’s going to be one of our challenges. But we’ll make it through it, it’ll be a much better place I hope – I’m hoping that all this distance will bring us closer together in the future and make more advances for us as blind people.
Thank you for listening, and I hope everyone has a great summer.
American Newscaster (female) 3:
Sacramento County public health leaders are saying that everyone should stay home, not just the elderly, unless you have essential chores to do like grocery shopping, food pickups, or doctor’s appointment.
This concludes episode six in our series Around the World With COVID-19 From a Blindness Perspective. We’d like to thank Brooklyn for sharing her experiences from California in the United States. Be sure to stay tuned for more episodes in our series, and from all of us here at Blind Abilities, through these challenging times, to you, your family, and friends, stay well, stay informed, and stay strong. Thank you so much for listening, and have a great day.
We’d like to thank Chee Chau for his beautiful music early in this podcast, his selection entitled “Wayfarer” was typically enchanting. Thank you, Chee Chau. And special thanks to Mike Kelly, Brooklyn’s late husband, for his magnificent bass work, and the selection entitled “Audio Wallpaper.” Thanks so much for listening.
Music] [Transition noise] –
When we share
-What we see
-Through each other’s eyes…
[Multiple voices overlapping, in unison, to form a single sentence]
…We can then begin to bridge the gap between the limited expectations, and the realities of Blind Abilities.
For more podcasts with the blindness perspective, check us out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, on Twitter @BlindAbilities. Download our app from the app store Blind Abilities, that’s two words, or send us an email at email@example.com. Thanks for listening.
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