Photo of Sean Ogletree guiding a blind woman down the street.

May 27, 2020

The world looks quite different now in the wake of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic. If you happen to be blind or visually impaired (BVI), however, it can be extremely difficult to see those changes ­– which makes navigating the world around you full of new challenges, both literally and figuratively.

“Social distancing is new to everyone, but it presents true challenges for people who are blind or visually impaired. Medical offices first responded to client appointments by making it mandatory for clients to come alone to appointments,” says Sean Ogletree, a case manager and career coach with the Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired. “I actually had a follow up cardiology appointment cancelled for one of my clients because she couldn’t make it in on her own. The response was definitely framed to favor able-bodied people, even though people with various disabilities would be negatively impacted.”

While he says “common sense finally led to changes” allowing Ogletree to travel with clients, unfortunately, Ogletree’s example is one that is far from uncommon. Assisting the BVI population during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, has provided an education for many sighted people in just how great the challenges they face truly are.

Here are a few ways to make life a little easier as a BVI person in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.


Man who is blind sitting on a bus bench holding his cainWith travel restrictions being imposed by governments and airlines, coupled with companies like Lyft and Uber seeing fewer drivers (and riders) as a result of COVID-19, getting around right now can pose a significant challenge for BVI residents. Fortunately for anyone with low vision, there are a number of apps that can help turn your smart phone into a magnifying glass or enhanced GPS device to help you navigate your way out in public.

BrailleNote Touch works with Zoom, Accesibyte is offering free access to their apps, and the American Foundation for the Blind has a full list of resources that can help BVI students stay connected to the classroom. You may also find many of them valuable thanks to audio commands that can assist in deciphering public transportation schedules and notices.


Woman standing while holding her white cain and smilingOgletree says COVID-19 poses more than just a movement dilemma for BVI people, however.

“For many of my clients, day programs, church, and social gatherings are imperative for their mental and emotional well-being,” says Ogletree, who has been helping clients with travel for errands and appointments. “I’ve had a client mention how social isolation is even more brutal for those who were already isolated prior to COVID-19.”

That’s why Ogletree says churches and other faith-based organizations “have been a great resource during these trying times,” be it via hosting services online or providing rides. Technology can also be a beacon to help you help fill your socialization needs via online gatherings.

Maintaining independence is vitally important as well. Some stores are giving those with impairments like being BVI special shopping hours, which may offer smaller crowds and more chances for employee assistance. This includes Kroger, Target, Walmart and Meijer. Many grocery, retail stores and restaurants have delivery options that can eliminate the need for potentially risky in-person visits. We recommend that you try ZoomFood, which is a free delivery service that utilizes volunteers to pick up and drop off groceries and essentials.

Even the most active individuals are finding it problematic to exercise during COVID-19, but this is valuable to not only your physical health, but mental health, too. If you desire to stay fit, don’t worry about the lack of resources if going outside may not be an option. There are plenty of accessible fitness tools and classes dedicated to BVI physical fitness.


Woman assisting a child who is typing on a braillerWhile BVI people enjoy being independent like anyone else, Ogletree says sighted individuals can make the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired easier by acting as advocates on their behalf.

“Blind and visually impaired people place a lot of faith in sighted people to guide and empower them,” Ogletree said.

Thus, if you are looking for a way to help a BVI person during these challenging times, all you need to do is look for and take advantage of opportunities to be a guiding light.

“Clovernook Center needs servant leadership during times like these, that isn’t just supervisors or managers, it is conscientious people who put the needs of others before their own in the wider community,” he says. “Servant leaders work for the benefit of others, not just when times are hard, not just when people are desperate, but every day and all day. As an organization that represents blind and visually impaired people, the motivation should be to serve first and learn how best to support their needs.”

Back to News