The Added Threat Of COVID-19 To Idaho's Blind And Visually Impaired

Mar 19, 2020

Credit JP Davidson flickr

“Social distancing” is not the first thing most people think of when they’re asked to assist someone who is blind or visually impaired. In fact, tens of thousands of Idahoans who are blind or visually impaired may ask for someone’s arm as an assist, and many more depend on public transportation.

Morning Edition host George Prentice talks with Beth Cunningham, administrator of the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired about how COVID-19 has impacted the lives of the nearly 40,000 Idahoans who are blind or visually impaired.

“You’ll see many of our clients using canes or asking to use someone’s arm as an assist. And, of course, many or our blind or visually impaired rely on public transportation to go to work or the grocery store.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTINCE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. In these vulnerable times, we need to remind ourselves of who among us are the most vulnerable. Indeed that includes the men, women and children who may be blind or visually impaired. Beth Cunningham is here, chief administrator of the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Beth, good morning.

BETH CUNNINGHAM: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: First off, can you give us a sense of how many people in Idaho are blind or visually impaired?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. As of 2017, Idaho has grown to 2.9% of our population.

PRENTICE: So about how many people?

CUNNINGHAM: It's roughly about 40,000 people in the state of Idaho.

PRENTICE: Social distancing is the last thing I think of when I think of assisting someone who is visually impaired.

CUNNINGHAM: That's right, George. Many of our clients use canes to travel, but they also may be using someone's arm as an assist and of course many people who are blind and visually impaired take public transportation and rely on that every day to get to work or to the grocery store. That is of course close contact and a little scary these days.

PRENTICE: Well, let's talk a little bit about being a little scared, and fear, and how you might allay some of those fears, maybe with transportation or other needs.

CUNNINGHAM: We are reaching out to all of our clients in Idaho to try to find out what their needs are and we're being flexible and open minded right now to possibly delivering services that we don't typically deliver, such as if a person needs to get to the pharmacy or get groceries brought to them. We're opening up to doing stuff like that as well as we've created a resource sheet that we're putting on our website to help them with things like finding Meals on Wheels or finding grocery delivery services.

PRENTICE: Well, every day is evolving, but as of this morning, can you tell us about any changes that you may have instituted?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, we serve about 892 people in the state of Idaho who are considered old or blind, which is 55 and older and we have stopped all of our house visits as of last Friday just to keep our clients safe. We are changing appointments rather than having people come to us or for us to come to their home. We are trying to provide services over the phone. [inaudible 00:02:35] rehab counselors are doing tele-counseling. We've delayed some things. Our students just finished term last Friday and went home. It was supposed to be a two week break. And so we are going to now have a four week break and we'll be flexible in case we have to extend that further. We're also looking at ways that we can provide some education over the phone. I also want to give out a little information for people who are blind or visually impaired that may be stuck at home right now.

CUNNINGHAM: Just remember the Talking Book Service that the Idaho Commission on Libraries has and they will send out by mail books for people to listen to and I have that phone number if you-

PRENTICE: Please.

CUNNINGHAM: It's (208) 334-2150. And then of course our phone number at the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired is (208) 334-3220. We are reaching out by phone or email to all of our clients, but also encourage people to contact us. If you know someone who is blind or visually impaired, a neighbor or someone in the community, please reach out by phone, see if they need you to go pick up a prescription or pick up groceries and those kinds of things or drive them so they don't have to take the bus. That would be great.

PRENTICE: Is that maybe the best thing that we can be doing to help, at least for now?

CUNNINGHAM: I think so right now. Public transportation is a big issue.

PRENTICE: Well she is Beth Cunningham, chief administrator at the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. First off, thank you for what you do and all of your colleagues.

CUNNINGHAM: Thank you, George. Thanks for having us.

PRENTICE: And best of luck.

CUNNINGHAM: Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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