For the past one month, K. Rajammal, a visually impaired person from Tirunagar in Madurai, travels by a share autorickshaw along with her husband, who has partial visual impairment, to sell ‘kadalai mittai’ and ‘cocoa mittai’ near the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple.
Till March, the couple used to sell these candies in buses and trains travelling to nearby districts. “After being without any income for many months, we decided to sell these candies near the temple as we wanted to satiate our hunger,” she says.
Ms. Rajammal says that though they are selling the same candies now, things have drastically changed after the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. “As my husband guides me while walking, I often bump into parked vehicles or objects. While I touch to feel and understand the object in front of me, the government’s advisory to refrain from touching public surfaces keeps echoing in my head. While we carry a hand sanitiser with us, how many can we afford with our meagre income,” she asks.
Like Ms. Rajammal, many visually impaired persons say the pandemic posed them unique challenges. They say they see the world through touch and are dependent on someone to guide them in public places. But the stress upon maintaining personal distancing and avoiding physical contact as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 are extremely difficult for them to follow.
Many visually impaired across the State, who are involved in selling snacks, stationery, agarbathis and toys in trains and buses, have lost their livelihoods due to the suspension of public transport, says P. Manogaran, Project Director (South India), National Federation of the Blind. “Only a few of them have started selling the products again. Most of them stayed at home and are on the brink of starvation,” he says.
S. Chokkaiyan is part of the 20 families of visually impaired persons who reside at Villapuram in Madurai and used to sell products in public transport.
“We are anxious whether people will buy products from us after the relaxation of the lockdown norms,” he says.
Once public transport resumes operations, the visually impaired would definitely need a stranger’s help to board buses and trains and even cross a road, says K. Govindaraj, a visually impaired person from Jolarpet, who used to make a living by selling toys in trains. “We need support, especially in places that are new to us,” he adds.
Concurring with this point, S. Namburajan, State general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently-Abled and Caregivers, calls for special COVID-19 care centres for persons with disabilities, including those with visual impairment. “The government must undertake dedicated research to understand the unique problems faced by the visually impaired and come out with a separate solution to their issues.”
Nethrodaya founder C. Govindakrishnan wants the government to release separate guidelines for the public to help the visually challenged during the pandemic. He says the visually impaired community needs public support to tide over the pandemic.
Source Name – The Hindu