Journey Forward study identifies critical challenges encountered by blind, low vision, and deafblind adults during the pandemic—digital accessibility problems and transportation barriers chief among them
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 13, 2022)—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) today announced the publication of the Journey Forward research report, examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on U.S. adults who are blind, low vision, or deafblind. The findings are the results of survey data completed by 488 participants during the summer of 2021. Survey topics included digital accessibility barriers, transportation and safety challenges, and access to healthcare, food, and medical supplies.
The Journey Forward study continues the research narrative begun with the Flatten Inaccessibility study, in which the authors examined the impact of COVID-19 on 1,921 adults with visual impairments in the United States, during the spring of 2020. Taken together, the two reports paint a vivid picture of the ways in which the millions of Americans who are blind or have low vision have had their lives affected in ways that demonstrate a clear inequity from their sighted counterparts.
The report includes an in-depth examination of the survey findings for each category, as well as recommendations by the study’s authors to address the issues highlighted by survey participants. A brief sampling of findings includes:
- Digital inclusion barriers: As in-person access diminished, reliance on web-based information and interfaces grew. Where these services were inaccessible, there were critical barriers to meeting one’s basic needs. Study participants reported risks and consequences to both physical and mental health. Use of telehealth was attempted by 70% of survey respondents during this period and 57% of those 330 respondents reported having accessibility challenges with telehealth platforms.
- Access to basic needs: About 47% percent of those who received a vaccine had had someone else schedule the vaccine for them while 34% scheduled the vaccine for themselves or another person. One participant articulated what many people who are blind or have low vision frequently experience: “I think it is assumed that someone else is available (friend, family, whoever) to help/look out for us. Some of us have people to do that. Many people do not. I would rather not have to ask someone to help me but sometimes it is just easier/quicker. It doesn't solve the bigger problem.”
- Safety concerns: When asked if they had concerns about maintaining social distancing and monitoring whether others were wearing masks, 71% of 451 respondents reported that they did.
- Transportation: The pandemic caused nationwide logistical problems with transportation, resulting in significant challenges for people with visual impairments. When asked about seeking healthcare services without a vehicle (for example, by walking or taking the bus), almost half of the 185 respondents reported that they were asked to wait outside the facility until the medical provider was ready to see them. In some cases, exceptions were made, but too many participants were left outside in unsafe conditions, such as extreme temperatures or sitting in parking lots, in which they felt uncomfortable and fearful.
- Healthcare: Survey respondents expressed considerable concern about barriers to obtaining health care and supplies, and frustration with protocols that did not account for patients or customers with a visual impairment. Of the 202 participants that responded to a question about getting needed healthcare supplies or prescriptions, 43% reported having challenges. Barriers included difficulty getting in touch with the doctor’s office or pharmacy, transportation challenges, and inaccessible websites and prescription labels.
- Voting: 81% of respondents participated in the November 2020 presidential election and 67% of those voted by mail-in ballot. In the open-narrative question associated with voting experience, 20% of survey participants reported needing to request sighted assistance to complete their ballots, compromising their ability to vote independently and privately.
“We gathered this data to help us understand the short- and long-term impact of the pandemic on those with visual disabilities and learn from their experiences so we can address both COVID-created and systemic issues that have managed to persist in the lives of the blind and low vision community,” said Stephanie Enyart, AFB’s Chief Public Policy and Research Officer.
The full report is available at AFB.org/JourneyForward.
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About the American Foundation for the Blind
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. Publisher of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness for over a century and counting, AFB is also proud to steward the accessible Helen Keller Archive, honoring the legacy of our most famous ambassador. AFB’s mission is to expand pathways to leadership, education, inclusive technology, and career opportunities to create a world of no limits for people who are blind, deafblind, or have low vision. To learn more, visit www.afb.org.