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How COVID-19 Safety Rules Impact Blind Accessibility

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It is the month of husked light and thinner veils between worlds. It is the year that the world dons new veils and tests new values. Masks are a prevalent physical veil, and not just for Halloween. Sighted people say it’s hard to recognize others wearing masks. Since I always carry a long white cane, I’m easy to spot, veiled or not.

After more than six months, I’m retiring my first cloth mask. Its protective, inner-cotton layer is worn from twice-a-week washing. It is stretched a bit from much masked talking and a certain amount of smiling. I consider myself a rule-follower. I wear the mask in public, and this includes in my apartment complex. I can’t reliably social-distance being totally blind. In March, the people who can sew saved us. They gathered scraps of cloth and elastic against initial terror. Now, masks are everywhere.

I have three cloth masks. This is somehow amazing. Just how long will this veil be necessary? Just how many rules can this virus impose on us?

Then came the trip two weeks ago to the department store. I hadn’t been there since shortly before COVID. They want mask-wearing and glove-wearing. (Think sandwich bags with thumb and finger holes.)

I wanted warm bedroom slippers. My friend Terri and I put on gloves.

Gloves were fine until I wanted to know the texture of the inside of a slipper. Large shapes could be felt through the gloves, but for me, every texture was gone. Is that counter glass or Formica? Is that slipper fleece or fur?

At that moment of not knowing something I wanted to know, I defied the store’s pandemic rule. I took off one glove and checked with middle and ring fingers. Lots of fur. My rebellion took about 45 seconds.

I replaced the glove and didn’t get caught. Am I now unafraid enough or too used to this normal? Am I tired of this normal?

The store didn’t have those slippers in my size. We left without buying anything.

There are so many veils — physical, technological and veils of honor and trust. I was surprised that my values as a blind person didn’t match my veil of belief as a rule-follower.

I chose a different store (Wal-Mart), with no glove rules and found my bedroom slippers. No gloves makes Wal-Mart less safe but more accessible. It’s an interesting choice. Perhaps if I had a very verbal describing person?

A week later in the Dollar Tree with Angel, who is a good describing person, I kept asking her to show me things — baskets, bells, bowls. Showing means touching, without gloves.

And then my neighbor invited me for pizza. Her apartment is just around the corner from mine. I thought I could dash over and back without a mask. (I would be eating with her so we wouldn’t need masks in her apartment.)

I came out of my door and heard people moving. I froze, caught this time. But the younger men just asked if I needed help. I chuckled, explaining my trip without a mask. They laughed, too. They were kind, but I went back for the mask. Of course, once I had it on, I didn’t encounter any other people.

Veils and values. Perceptions and behaviors. New normals that become too normal or exhausting. I will try to do better. How’s that for honesty?

Getty image by Igor Ploskin.

Originally published: November 18, 2020
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