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Coronavirus: Albertans who are blind, visually impaired adjust to limited touch restrictions

Limiting touch during COVID-19 an added challenge for Alberta’s blind community
WATCH ABOVE: Blind and partially-sighted people are adjusting to limited touching under COVID-19 restrictions. Kendra Slugoski has more on the challenges that come with that.

Christopher Warner is used to challenges; the 48-year-old is legally blind.

However, navigating the world around him under strict COVID-19 restrictions has made his day-to-day life even more of an adjustment.

“For now, I’m very much home-bound,” Warner said.

“When you’re used to navigating with touch and with help from others, and when we can’t have too much contact, it becomes more a problem,” Warner said.

READ MORE: Albertans who are blind, visually impaired urged to continue reaching out amid COVID-19 pandemic

Warner lost most of his sight in 2005 during surgery. He said when he woke, he could only see light and shadows.

He since gained back some vision, but seeing all the fine details is still a struggle.

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He uses a cane and his phone loaded with apps to help with direction, and when grocery shopping, Warner depends on touch.

“When we’re not supposed to be touching as many things… That becomes a lot of harder,” Warner said.

“We’re in a very tactile world.”

For many people who are blind or partially sighted, touch can be critical, said Warner — especially when it comes to high-touch surfaces like elevator buttons and office doors.

But It’s the human-to-human contact that Warner misses most.

A community educator with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Warner said he’s used to visiting schools and seniors’ homes — but now he can’t do any of that.

“There’s nowhere to go out and do presentations,” he said.

Despite the social distancing rules, Warner wants to make sure other Albertans who are blind and partially sighted are still keeping in contact with others.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out,” he said.

READ MORE: Smartphone donations are changing the lives of the visually-impaired, CNIB says

To help combat isolation, the CNIB Foundation has moved all of its resources online, including the creation of new virtual content, executive director of CNIB Alberta Andrew Galster said.

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“We went from having a handful of virtual programs — then in a span of a week, we had 150 virtual programs available for Canadians with vision loss,” Galster said.

Galster said the silver-lining has been allowing access to people in rural areas who typically couldn’t make it to in-person programs in Calgary or Edmonton.

“Now they can dial in, they can jump on video,” Galster said.

The Virtual Vision Mate is one of CNIB’s new online programs. Galster said the program has helped isolated seniors connect with strangers for virtual coffee-dates.

“Some of them have been saying they’re getting quite a kick out of it, and saying they’ve been enjoying actually connecting with folks.”

READ MORE: Edmonton family reacts to Alberta hospital visit ban amid COVID-19 pandemic: ‘It’s heartbreaking’

The virtual programs offer free career support, technology training, youth groups and book clubs.

Galster said volunteers have also been helping the CNIB with grocery and other deliveries.

“When there’s no other choice, it’s incredible what people can accomplish,” Galster said.

Warner said people who are blind and partially sighted are also counting on others to look out for them.

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“We may not be aware that you’re there, so we may not be as good at social distancing,” Warner said.

“We kind of rely on a sighted person to keep their distancing from us.”