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. We have circumnavigated 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,
-Trinidad and Tobago-
-the United States-
Brooklyn Rodden Kelly:
In this, the twelfth episode in our series Around the World with COVID-19 From a Blindness Perspective, we go back across the pond. Our guest today is Jo Fishwick. Jo lives in Teignmouth, a small seaside town in Devon, on the Southwestern coast of England. Jo speaks of her experience with the coronavirus, from the outset, when she had to transition from her office to her home, where she works as an eye clinic liaison officer for an eye clinic in a local hospital. She speaks of the influence the pandemic has had on her family, on her guide dog Bruno, and on her charitable organization VI Talk, of which she is the chair. Now, please welcome our guest, Jo Fishwick.
British Man 1:
Contain, delay, research, mitigate. Wash your hands, with soap and hot water-
British Newscaster (female) 1:
Just hours after the first Briton with coronavirus left this hospital, another patient checked in. Tonight, a woman who was infected in China has become the ninth case in the UK-
British Newscaster (female) 2:
The total number of coronavirus cases going up to 590 from 456 yesterday. Two more patients have died, so that brings the total who have sadly died to 10.
British Newscaster (female) 3:
We have the latest data now from NHS England, that the death toll in the UK has now been confirmed at 233.
British Newscaster (female) 4:
-the rapidly growing number, total now stands at 759 people, 181 in the last 24 hours alone.
British Newscaster (female) 5:
-the numbers that they’ve just given us, an increase of 759 deaths, taking the total sadly now to 18,100 within the UK. Confirmed cases, an increase of 133,495 people testing positive for COVID-19-
Hi, my name is Jo Fishwick, and I live in Devon, which is in the southwest of England. I’m a guide dog owner, totally blind, I’m married, I have an 18 year old daughter.
British Newscaster (male ) 1:
Despite having coronavirus on the doorstep, work continues here in Devon, on the Heritage Railway. Right next door to the railway is the school, where a pupil tested positive for the virus a week ago. It’s open for study again today, but the church in the village is staying closed.
Nationally we’ve issued guidance to churches to start thinking about what might happen if they are in a situation like Churston Ferrers.
British Newscaster (male) 1:
Devon is coping, but in an insecure atmosphere. Most here expect it to get worse.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was working in an eye clinic in a hospital in Exeter. It was a few days before lockdown was announced that we were told to kind of leave the eye clinic and begin working from home, or at least making preparations to work from home, and it was very quick, there was kind of no time to really think about it and pick up things that you needed other than essentials, so we went home and began the process of setting everything up to work from home.
British man 2:
We remain in the contain phase of the outbreak, but watching what is happening around the world our scientists think containment is extremely unlikely to work on its own. And that is why we are making extensive preparations for a move to the delay phase.
British Newscaster (male) 2:
A delay won’t just slow the virus, but potentially hold up millions who could soon be asked to stay at home.
British man 3:
We are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10 to 14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where we say everybody who has even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever should be self-isolating for seven days afterward.
British Newscaster (male ) 3:
So those with symptoms who don’t need hospital treatment will have to stay indoors at home, where many won’t be able to work.
I’ve found that quite difficult, because we’ve got a fairly small house, and we’re working in the living room of our house, so at the end of the working day it’s having to switch off from work and begin family life. Also, I’m quite lucky in that my husband is also my support worker, PA, whatever you want to call him. So, when we’re in the eye clinic he reads and writes for me, does photocopying, scanning, various bits and pieces, whatever I need, really, and he also drives for me, which is great, so I’ve been very lucky that he’s been able to be at home and still be my support worker. So I’ve still been able to do my job, more or less. It’s not been exactly the same.
I also have, as I said, a daughter, who at the beginning of the pandemic was 17. She finished college, because they, again, were told to leave, and come home, and they were working from home, which she found quite difficult, I think, not interacting with her peers. So the difficulty is staying separate when I’m working, because a lot of my work is confidential with patients. So she was working upstairs in her bedroom, and myself and my husband, Rob, were downstairs in the lounge.
I’ve found it quite difficult with my guide dog, Bruno—he’s been quite poorly all through lockdown, and so he’s been having blood tests and different things to try and get to the bottom of what’s wrong with him. So I’ve not been able to go out with him every day—I certainly haven’t been working him very much at all. I’ve tried to make sure when he’s well enough that he gets a walk every day, but I’ve not gone out unaccompanied, I’ve always had my husband or daughter with me. I have been concerned about his work routine, because guide dogs tend to thrive on routine. We are getting to the root of the problem with him, so he’s on medication now, so I have actually worked him into town. Now, I live in a seaside town, which has its own challenges, and I was a bit concerned, because obviously guide dogs aren’t taught to social distance, but I worked him into town with my husband with me. And he was pull-perfect, it was amazing, he’d not forgotten a thing, he was confident finding all his crossing points and everything, so that made me feel better. I was, however, quite apprehensive about going out for the first time—all I’ve been doing is going out to take him for a walk every day, but it’s been a lead walk or we’ve driven to a country park, let him go free and walked around there, which is acres and acres of land where you really don’t need to come into contact with anybody.
I count myself as very lucky, because my husband drives, my daughter is sighted as well. She doesn’t drive yet, but, you know, I’m lucky that I’ve got them to go out with me, to make sure Bruno is exercised. Shopping, we took the decision at the beginning of lockdown that, because Rob can drive, that we wouldn’t take a slot from online shopping, we would go to the shop. Rob’s asthmatic, so he was driving us to the supermarket and my daughter and I were going in to do the shopping, yeah, so that’s how we’ve been doing it. And I’m lucky that they’ve been able to come out with me, and exercise Bruno to make sure he gets as much exercise as possible—it’s not been as much as normal, but it’s not been too bad. I’ve always gone out with hand sanitizer, wipes and things like that, and I’m quite fastidious.
British Newscaster (female) 6:
A major incident declared after thousands of people defied advice to stay away – illegal parking, 33 tons of waste, drunken fights, and gridlock on the roads. Further down the coast in Brighton, marshals were on standby ready to shut down the beach should similar crowds occur. Impatient for the next phase of lockdown easing, social distancing rules seem to be going out the window. Could this undo everything we’ve achieved in lockdown?
I was a bit apprehensive when lockdown eased, it was kind of like oh, you know, you can go out, and shops were opening and pubs were opening and it was kind of like I don’t think I will, I think I’ll just stay as I am, I think I’ll just do what I’ve been doing all the time. But my daughter’s 18th birthday was looming, and I knew that we would have to do something for that, and it wasn’t celebrated in the way that we probably would have done, but it was lovely all the same. We did go to a local pub.
British Newscaster (male) 4:
Pub life is back, but different. Your old familiar is unfamiliar—stickers leading to the bar, hand sanitizer on the wall, and you need to give your details for track and trace on entry.
British woman 2:
I thought it’d be a lot busier than it is, but it’s nice to kind of get back to normal.
British Newscaster (male) 4:
Ultimately this is an experiment, nobody knows what this easing back to normality will bring, and a lot will depend on how we behave. And whilst it is essential for the economy, it is also a potential opportunity for the virus.
As a totally blind person, you can’t look around you and see where people are. You walk into a place and you don’t know where people are, you don’t know if you’re encroaching on somebody else or if they’re doing the same to you until you actually feel them near you. That I’ve found quite stressful, but it was a lovely day, and it was quite quiet, it was quieter than I thought. I thought we would be inundated with tourists, if I’m honest, being a seaside town, and it wasn’t as busy in the town as I’d expected it to be, so that was much less stressful than I’d thought. I have to say it was lovely to kind of sit outside a pub and friends pass by and just have a chat, because everything’s been done online, over the phone, over Zoom, over Microsoft Teams, and although that’s been fantastic, it has been very, very different, so it’s actually been nice. Although you can’t give somebody a hug that’s quite hard, I think, I’m quite a tactile person with family and friends, you know, but you have to do what’s right, you know, you have to wear those masks and you have to keep your distance, and I think that’s quite hard. I did have an occasion where a friend came up, and just because it’s the natural thing to do came in for a hug and I threw my hands in the air and went “Whoa, back off,” and they did, and for a second it was uncomfortable but we laughed about it, but I think it’s just getting used to what we’re calling I guess the new normal.
I’m also chair of VI Talk, a charity that supports blind and partially sighted people over here in the UK, and that’s been different as well, very different. At the beginning of lockdown, we took on some new volunteers because normally we would do face-to-face meetups where people can get together, listen to talks or do arts and crafts, that kind of thing. We had to cancel one at the beginning of lockdown—fortunately we didn’t lose an awful lot of money on that, but we knew that we wouldn’t probably be able to have any events for the rest of 2020. We don’t know what will happen in ‘21, but we’ll take that as it comes. But we decided to get a license for Zoom, and try and bring people together, so we took on new volunteers, and we ran three Zoom chats a week, and they were really successful. We did some general chats and we’ve done some themed chats, so we’ve talked about things like travel, which has been really big, obviously, on the COVID-19 agenda, especially for disabled people. We talked about reading, and books, we talked about fashion, and skincare, we talked about sport and leisure and how we’re doing that differently, because obviously you can’t go out for a run, you can’t go out and play football or cricket or go for a swim, or anything like that, or go to the gym, so we shared tips and ideas on what we were doing to keep active, or if we weren’t, really, because some people aren’t, they’re not able to. So those have been really successful. We’re now doing two chats one week and then three chats the next, and our volunteers have been amazing, they’ve really stepped up to the mark to help us with that. Our groups, obviously, on social media have been really useful for people to ask all those questions. Sometimes it can get a bit heated because the whole mask thing—am I exempt, do I want to wear a mask, am I going to wear a mask—and that’s been quite tricky to deal with all the interactions on the Facebook groups and things, but I think we’ve managed it pretty well as a team. As always, it’s always teamwork.
So I don’t know when I’m going to go back into the eye clinic, into the hospital. I guess we are classed as key workers, because we’ve carried on working from home, supporting patients. Our job changed slightly—so as an eye clinic liaison officer, or what we call an ECLO for short, we started checking in on all our older patients, so anybody over the age of 69 we were phoning them and checking that they had access to food and supplies, medication, prescriptions, that they could access their finances, that they could keep up to date with current news, about the pandemic, and that they could keep in touch with friends and family, and that they were safe. And that’s been interesting, but it’s been a privilege, really, to support people. It’s been difficult because normally we do things face-to-face more often than not, so it’s all been phone based, which is quite difficult because some of our patients are hearing impaired as well as visually impaired, but, you know, we’ve carried on. We’ve been able to do what we call SIT calls, which is S-I-T, Staying In Touch, and if a patient is vulnerable, living on their own, we’ve been able to phone them once a week to check in on them to make sure that they’re okay and that they’re able to access the food and prescriptions, etc. So that’s been good, to be able to do that, I’m still doing that at the moment. You know, when I’m in clinic, I don’t have a set space, so as a totally blind person on one hand I’m feeling good about going back in, whenever that happens, but on the other hand I’m feeling quite anxious about that, because, you know, the whole wearing of masks all day, every day, the sanitizing, will the area be cleaned regularly enough, will that be my responsibility or the cleaning staff in the hospital. The rooms that I tend to be in have clinical equipment, which, you know, as a totally blind person you touch things to orientate, you touch things to find your way. Of course Bruno isn’t going to be- you know, he’s not been taught to social distance, so the whole thing going back in there is quite tricky, and it’s making me a little bit anxious. I’m not sure when we’re going to go back in, I suspect it won’t be until late August, early September, providing we don’t get a second wave.
British Newscaster (male) 5:
Cleaning, sterilizing, preparing, in pubs, hairdressers, B and Bs. The great lockdown is being eased further tomorrow. Today the government urged people to continue to act responsibly this weekend.
British man 4:
The success of these businesses, the livelihoods of those who rely on them, and ultimately the economic health of the whole country is dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly.
I have met up with a couple of friends, that was quite a challenge for me. I kind of went and met a friend for coffee, we sat on the sea-front at either end of a bench, and it was lovely, it was so lovely to be sort of with her in person and to have a chat. We’ve been catching up over the phone, but it was nice to be there in person, you know? I am the old mother hen, blessed are the old, I think, but at the beginning I was kind of contacting all my friends in various ways, Messenger, WhatsApp, text message, and just kind of saying “How are you, are you okay, are you able to access everything,” and yeah, so I kind of got the name the old mother hen, I guess. But that’s the way I work, I think, we have to take care of each other, we have to look out for each other. So I just hope that, you know, we come out of this as well as we can, that at the end of this we’re safe and we’re well. I’m wishing everybody the best, stay safe, do what we need to do, look after each other, and do what we can to help each other.
British Newscaster (female) 7:
Scientists in Southampton say their trial could be a game changer.
British Newscaster (male) 6:
It’s the 20th of July, and the top story for you today is that the government has signed deals to secure 90 million doses of coronavirus vaccines which are being developed overseas.
British Newscaster (male) 7:
There are now an astonishing 23 coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials around the world, including two in the UK developed by Oxford University and Imperial College London. Today, the government announced deals with two overseas vaccine producers. Bear in mind that 9 of 10 vaccines are unsuccessful, and you see the logic behind the decision to back several horses in the search for a winner.
We’d like to thank Jo Fishwick for coming onto Blind Abilities and sharing her perspectives on the coronavirus and COVID-19 from Teignmouth, on the southwestern coast of England. Be sure to listen to more episodes in our series Around the World with COVID-19 From a Blindness Perspective. 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.
[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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