“It is not just school, it’s everything like hanging out with other blind people,” said John Kimbrough, who described the isolation he feels during the current health pandemic.
For a blind and partially deaf graduate school students, COVID-19 has been especially been challenging for John and others with special abilities. John is my adult son and I often check on him. .
Like most of us, John said the isolation is challenging. Yet, John is fortunate because he lives with his Dad, Wendell, in southern Illinois while completing his Master’s degree in Education. John’s career goal is to become a teacher to visually impaired students. He hopes to return to the campus where he was educated in high school, the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, FL.
As for the coronavirus pandemic’s social distancing and school closures parameters, John said the virtual learning has made him feel more isolated than perhaps his counterparts with sight. Also, when he is “out and about”and abiding by the Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 guidelines, he feels a little better. Still, he says that it hard to navigate in once familiar spaces.
“It is what it is. Not much interaction going on. Trying to figure out ways to counter the lack of human interaction at school,” said John.
John is not alone.
Tens of thousands of visually impaired persons are finding special challenges navigating during this time. Individuals who used to offer help to visually impaired persons now shy away from them due to COVID-19. contagion risks. There are several other troubling trends that negatively impact visually impaired persons.
John, also a candidate for a kidney transplant, is in line for a COVID-19 vaccine. He is hopeful that the soon becomes an afterthought. For now, however, family members and friends, check on John to keep him engaged. He also relies on audio books and he listens to videos such as “The Danger of a Single Story.”
John says the video as told by Novelist Chimamanda Adichiet, is particularly useful to him during the pandemic period since it speaks to seeing the world through one lens without considering the plight and stereotyping of others who are marginalized.
John is fortunate. He is enrolled in a university program where “this semester felt more normal for me than last semester.” He’s focusing on his two graduate courses, “Classroom Management” and “Measurement of Learning.” Two research papers are due this semester in one of his courses.
John said thankfully, he learned specialized coping skills while he was one of handful of students nationwide selected for a leadership program at the New York-based Helen Keller International program. He was paired with a completely deaf student and the exercise as to find a way to move forward. John said it taught trust among them. John realized that he needed the person’s sight to move forward and the individual needed someone to accurately hear the instructions.
During that time, John and his group toured “Ground Zero” at the former World Trade Center 9/11 site . It was about a year after the 2001 disaster involving international violence against the United States.
John said he tempers his feeling of isolation against what he “sensed” at the 9/11 crash site. He said that he could almost hear the screams and feel the fear that the victims likely felt. He is a victim of COVID-19, yet John said it is nothing when compared to what happened on Sept.11, 2001.