Let me start by sharing some information about myself.
First of all, I am completely blind. I have been since birth due to a genetic disease.
Second, and this may sound strange to you, but overall COVID has been relatively good for me. I was able to work from home without problems (except for a few minor back problems due to sitting too long), and my mom lives nearby, able to help me with chores like grocery shopping. I have managed to stay physically active through swimming and skiing, with the help of a few close friends. If I’m stuck for a ride, I have no problem calling an Uber.
Sadly, the sad reality is that the majority of blind and visually impaired British Columbians are not so lucky.
Not only did the isolation put a strain on their sanity, but tasks like shopping were made problematic as they had to navigate a myriad of plexiglass dividers. How do you expect a blind person to maintain the required two meters between themselves and others – not to mention trusting those around them [to] practice good mask wearing etiquette?
Sadly, at least 70% of blind Canadians are underemployed or unemployed, so there’s no way to afford an Uber, making them all the more vulnerable when taking public transit. Even in an Uber, it’s impossible to tell if the driver is properly masked or if the plexiglass has slipped out of place.
Earlier this month, the BC Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons and some advocates in the visually impaired community wrote to Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry, calling for the prioritization of vaccines for British Columbians legally. blind, as has been done for people with other physical and intellectual disabilities.
The response has been disappointing. While understanding our concerns, they argued that due to the limited supply of vaccines, priority is given to “those who are proven to be most vulnerable to serious illness first”.
I was fortunate enough to ask Minister Dix this question when I visited CKNW’s Mike Smyth Show. He argued that these decisions were always based on science and reflected medical advice. So I contacted Dr. Briar Sexton, the advocacy chair of the British Columbia chapter of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, who disagreed with him.
“I welcome Minister Dix to send proof that a healthy 55-year-old is more clinically vulnerable than a 50-year-old blind person,” said Dr. Sexton.
“In the absence of hard data, the medical community must rely on common sense.”
One last point. The visually impaired community in British Columbia is not really large; maybe 500 people up there. We may not be as medically vulnerable as some of the other British Columbians who have been prioritized to get vaccinated. Factor in those that might have been prioritized due to additional medical conditions besides blindness, and the pool shrinks even more.
So for Minister Dix, Dr. Henry and others, for me, the decision is obvious. Don’t close your eyes to those who can’t see you.
Donovan Tildesley // Squamish