Touchy About Touch

I read an article about how this new physically distant life kind of sucks for blind people, and although I don’t agree with all of it, he definitely has some good points. He very clearly explains the constant anxiety I feel when I’m out and about and might bump someone, have to touch elevator buttons, etc. I laughed when I read his description of an elbow bump gone wrong. That would so totally happen to me. What would often happen to me is when other blind people would try to shake my hand at a conference or whatever, they would not make contact with a hand. Sometimes it was an arm, sometimes it was my boobs! Oops

I’m happy that he covered the whole thing about how gloves make it harder to feel stuff. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t really taken to wearing them. I could also see how frequent hand-washing if you followed the guidelines to the letter could make your fingers not so sensitive.

I was especially grateful for this paragraph. I would cut and paste more, but there’s so much more of this that I would end up cutting and pasting because I would have a hard time knowing where to stop.

3. Social Distancing:
Beyond direct physical contact, the key safeguard for avoiding COVID-19 infection is to maintain good social distancing behavior. Following these guidelines, which involve keeping a 6-foot radius between yourself and anybody around you, is trivial when performed using sight but if you try doing so with eyes closed, you will quickly find it is extremely difficult.
I generally only become aware of another person in my vicinity when I hear them talk, when I touch them with my hand, or perhaps if close enough, when I smell their presence (yes, most people have a distinct “smell” which is agnostic to being bad or good but that most people immediately assume is bad). The breadth and depth of what can be perceived from these nonvisual modalities is much less than vision and as a consequence, the experience of the perceived world for BVI folks occurs at closer range than for their sighted peers.
Touch occurs within arm’s length, which can be extended out a yard or more if using a cane but still violates the magic 6-foot corona bubble. Hearing can occur at much greater distances but in reality, recognizing someone’s voice and talking to them at normal conversational levels also occurs within a 6-foot radius. Importantly, if anybody in the surrounding environment is silent, they essentially do not exist to a BVI person.
The challenge of maintaining appropriate social distancing behavior without vision is two-fold: (1) difficulty in gauging the distance of nearby people (assuming they are detected at all) and (2) challenges in maintaining this distance during movement.
I find myself frequently violating the 6-foot corona bubble as I have no easy means to monitor its boundary, which is elastic and constantly changes in real-time with my movement and the movement of those around me. While I can imagine technological solutions for addressing this social distancing problem, the standard tools of long canes and guide dogs are not up to the task as canes are too short and guide dog training is not consistent with following social distancing procedures.

I’m also happy I don’t live in New York. If I had to deal with the aggression he describes because I accidentally got too close, I don’t think I’d make it outside. It’s bad enough up here, and most people have been quite reasonable, but I still find myself stressed. I’m venturing out to get Tansy’s nails trimmed on Thursday, and I’m not looking forward to it. *Cue the sounds of chickens clucking.*

What saddens me the most is I had hoped that this whole physically distant stuff would have taught people to use their words more because the grabby grabby method isn’t safe for either of us. But what it has done is made some people reluctant to say anything at all. *Sad face*

Blech. Coronavirus sucks.

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1 Comment

  1. A lot of good points here.

    We absolutely shouldn’t avoid being helpful simply because we might get a little too close to someone. But this talk about hugging people and hand shaking and so on and so forth not being bad, I’m not sure I can get completely on board with that. Even as a totally blind person from birth, I don’t want to touch anyone that I don’t need to be touching. I feel much better about not hugging my grandmother for a while than I would about being close in the family sense and winding up giving her the damn coronavirus.

    And our man here as put far more thought into handshakes than I ever have. Sure I can get a little bit of info from a person’s hand, but I’ve never hung around a handshake long enough to determine nail grooming habits or number of rings worn. That bit comes off borderline creepy, if I’m being honest.

    But yes, navigating this new normal is going to be pretty awful at times, which is one of the reasons I’m not in a big hurry to be part of it for anything other than utility. No way in hell I’m going to a restaurant right now, for instance. Nobody is going to want to help me to a table or hang out and discuss the menu or even direct me to the bathroom. Not when we’re supposed to be keeping distance and not when restaurants aren’t running at full capacity. We’re going to be limited or left out of things for those reasons for a while and it’s absolutely going to suck sometimes. But for now, I’ll take it. It feels better than the alternative.

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