CHENNAI: 'Avoid touching surfaces' has been a constant warning right from the beginning of the pandemic. Though this is slowly becoming the new normal, the life of people from the visually challenged community who depend on these very surfaces for mobility, has come to a standstill.
32-year-old Menaka from Ashok Nagar said she has not stepped out of her house since more than 100 days now. "I have literally been staying amid four walls for more than three months now since there is no way out. Touch is an integral part of how we function. We need the help of surfaces or people to help us cross roads and search for items in shops. But everybody is so hesitant to hold your hand and help nowadays since nobody knows who is affected. As a result, I am trapped. Not just me, most other visually challenged people," she said.
They say though they can use a walking stick to cross the road, it also increases the risk of accidents.
There are not many mobility devices available in the market too. While normal walking sticks are priced at Rs 150, sticks with voice automation and vibration detecting facilities cost anywhere between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000.
"Given the current economic situation, it is nearly impossible to buy such devices. The government must ensure that they either provide monetary support or come up with mobility devices driven by artificial intelligence. I have met at least 500 families during the lockdown to provide relief material and was shocked to find that most of them have only been sitting at their home unable to even come out for a minute. The kind of suffocation affects mental health," said P Manoharan, member of Tamil Nadu Differently Abled welfare board.
Manoharan further added that the visually challenged depend on touch for affection. "Since you cannot see the other person's expression, we hold their hand while talking, to express ourselves. However, that too is not possible now, so the mental health has definitely taken a beating."
42-year-old P Raja who is living alone in Egmore is experiencing just that. Since his wife and daughter left for Madurai just before the lockdown, he has been staying alone. "Volunteers come and drop the materials and leave. I have not even spoken to anyone properly since my phone too is under repair. Once public transport begins, it will be even more difficult if nobody helps us. We cannot stay at our homes when we do not know when the pandemic will end," he said.
One common thing that most of the people that spoke to Express said is that while people are getting adapted to the 'new normal', there is nothing normal or even little inclusive for the people of this community. They seek government intervention and some innovation so that they too can lead a new normal life.