By FARRAH JOHNSON
BAHAMIANS living with disabilities said the COVID-19 crisis has created unique challenges for the community, which places them at a higher risk of contracting the contagious disease.
Persons with disabilities told The Tribune the pandemic has given them anxiety since many of them are dependent on other people to assist them in their daily routines.
Kendrick Rolle, president of the Bahamas Alliance for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said the government has not addressed the issues facing the disabled community directly while handling this crisis.
“None of the press releases, or updates mention persons with disabilities specifically,” he said.
“They did point out diabetics, persons with hypertension and people with compromised immune systems as high-risk, but they did not mention persons with disabilities on the whole.”
Mr Rolle said this factor creates a serious challenge for “persons like himself” who cannot see.
“Especially for blind persons, we are unable to gauge our social distancing,” he explained. “We basically use our hands to help us move around, so we are constantly touching various surfaces.
“Also, they mentioned seniors having (special) store hours, but what about persons with disabilities? Should we go and fight those long lines in the crowd for our shopping?
“And for those who are blind like myself, I don’t usually use cash so I go and take my card to the ATM. So that means I would have to be accommodated by someone. All of these things we are overlooking.”
Mr Rolle said that no provisions were made for caretakers who have to go and assist persons with disabilities during the national curfew. He thinks the government should issue “specialised identification cards” for persons with disabilities and their caretakers.
“Let’s say someone is having a situation after 9 o’clock at night and they need to call on a family friend or caretaker to come out and help them. That’s going to be difficult, because there is a curfew in place and these things were not mentioned in the order. So all these things affect the community of persons who are blind or visually impaired.”
Jasmine Frazer, a wheelchair user with heart problems, added that she cannot “afford to run the risk” of contracting the novel coronavirus.
She told this newspaper she has some “anxieties” over the pandemic because her condition places her at an extremely high-risk.
“I’m a wheelchair user and so this already in itself presents some level of difficulty, because I have to be transported wherever I’m going,” she said.
“The key thing is trying to stay indoors unless I have an emergency and trying to ensure that I stock up on my medication, because apart from being a wheelchair user, I have congestive heart failure.”
Ms Frazer added that she faces these issues along with the “the same difficulties of everyday life” that others experience.
“My son is 15 and he’s also asthmatic, so we both need to stay indoors as much as possible,” she said.
“My worry for the most part — not only being a person with a disability — but when you have kids your concern is always the children first and making sure that they are okay and not miserable having to be indoors all the time.”
Still, Ms Frazer said she is taking all of the necessary precautions to deter her and her child’s chances of contracting the potentially deadly disease.
Ms Frazer wants the public to be more aware of the specific issues this pandemic creates for the disabled community.
“The key thing for a person with a disability is they need to have medication, especially if it is somebody that is confined to a wheelchair.
“Like I said, I’m a wheelchair user but I’m not confined so I’m able to be transported where I need to go. But there are persons that actually cannot leave the house. How do we accommodate those persons in terms of getting whatever grocery items or medical care and assistance that they need?
“I’m about to finish my education degree at the University of the Bahamas so that’s another complication that presents itself,” she said.
“Not only am I dealing with my disability, but I also attend school so I have to go online and attend my classes and do my homework and then you have the anxiety of what ifs.”
Still, Ms Frazer said her number one concern was officials being mindful of the deaf and hard of hearing community when disseminating information pertaining to the virus.
“Sometimes we have a person signing and sometimes we don’t (at press conferences),” she said. “We’re also not aware that some persons that are hard of hearing do not understand sign language, so closed captioning becomes a necessity.
“We have to make sure that we cover all of the bases that pertain to the deaf and hard of hearing community, wheelchair users, amputees and the blind and visually impaired.”