Think and Zoom COVID19 Guide: Helping Blind & Disabled Americans During the Pandemic
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens;
but often we look so long at the closed door that
we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
- Helen Keller
Zuby Onwuta is an entrepreneur and founder of Think and Zoom, a startup that is creating a solution that uses human brain waves to control Blind Assistive Tech. Onwuta hails from Nigeria and currently resides in Austin, TX. He is Harvard and MIT educated, a 4-time TEDx speaker, and a member of the 2020 MassChallenge HealthTech cohort. He is also legally blind and disabled himself.
The above picture is of Onwuta wearing his patented invention, Think and Zoom Brain Control for Blind Assistive Tech, which provides hands-free, and automated use of Blind Tech like electronic magnifiers and screen readers. About the picture, Onwuta says, “I look quite normal, and there are millions of people that look just like me across the United States and many more millions across the world, who despite looking normal, have the same struggles in seeing like I do.”
In 2016, over 7.4 million US individuals aged 16+ were reported having a visual disability. Of those working-aged individuals, over 70% are not employed full-time, and 28% are living below the poverty line. Clearly, this is an outstanding issue, and one that is only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What many people may not be aware of is that the term “blindness” covers a wide spectrum of visual disabilities, ranging from legally blind or visual acuity of 20/200 (10 times worse than normal vision) to total blindness, where there is a complete loss of sight. Onwuta shares that “while most people are well meaning, the lack of understanding also exacerbates the issue, and the vulnerable population of vision-impaired individuals is often forgotten.”
So, how can you help make sure that no one blind is left behind or #NoBlindLeftBehind, especially during the pandemic? Onwuta has compiled a list of resources and recommendations that is included at the end of this post, and he says that if you have any blind or disabled individuals in your lives (family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors) you can call and check up on them to make sure that everything is well. “Phone check-ins to address mental health issues like anxiety and depression as well as combat loneliness could be a way to help out a blind individual who can no longer go to work and socialize or go to church or other community events.”
If you have the ability, you can also volunteer to help in any way you can, such as offering to drop off groceries and other essentials. Finally, you can share the resources below with anyone you know who is connected to blindness and visual impairment.
TIPS AND RESOURCES FOR BLIND AMERICANS
How blind individuals can stay busy during COVID-19:
- Use video chat like Facetime, which can now do a group meeting for up to 32 people, or web conference tools such as Zoom and Skype to stay in touch with family and friends
- Use this time to start a new hobby
- Work from home or study from home, using online tools
- Get organized at home by putting braille labels on things, cleaning out the garage and closets, or start other personal projects
- Learn and practice new skills using online tools
- Read a book with kindle app, audible app, or other accessible options
- Listen to audio podcasts, either using the in-built podcast app on your smartphone, or downloading a podcast app.
- Netflix has a separate category for audio described movies and shows! Endeavor to watch the audio described movie “Crip Camp”, a documentary on the origins of the disability rights movement in America.
- Seek out blind and visually impaired support groups via social media, or start a teleconference support group amongst you and your friends!
For grocery shopping:
. H-E-B (only in Texas)
- H-E-B offers in-store shopping assistants who fill in customer orders in the store and prepare them for pick-up at checkout. You can go to any H-E-B and request an in-store shopping assistant to help you with your grocery shopping.
. Trader Joe’s (all over the country)
- Trader Joe’s is renowned for having the nicest employees among all grocery stores. Their employees are always happy, generous and helpful to the blind.
. Shopping Angels
- Shopping Angels provides free shopping services to the disabled, sick, and elderly
. Aunt Bertha
- Aunt Bertha social care network, a web platform to search for free or reduced cost services like medical care, food, job training, and more.
For Grocery Delivery
- For groceries to be delivered, apps such as Instacart, Shipt, and Amazon Fresh can get groceries delivered to your house. Also, Amazon Prime Now can deliver medicine as well as household items to you.
For Meal Delivery
- And for food delivery, meal delivery services like DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, and Postmates, allow you to order from local restaurants, and have it delivered right to your door
Resources and hotlines:
- Local hotlines:
- In Boston, residents are being urged to call 311 or text “BOSCOVID” to 99411 with any questions or concerns regarding the coronavirus
- The public can also call 211 for coronavirus information or text “COVIDMA” to 888–777 for the latest updates.
- In San Antonio, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has opened a hotline for Bexar County residents with questions about the novel coronavirus. Residents can call (210) 207–5779 during weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The COVID-19 hotline is available in English and Spanish.
- National Federation of the Blind COVID-19 Resources and NFB-NEWSLINE (free audio news) & volunteer hotline 832 930 0125
- Mental Health:
- San Antonio mental health phone support line
- Samaritans Statewide Helpline (MA): 1–877–870–4673
- Rutgers Eye2Eye helpline for legally blind is the nation’s first peer support helpline for the legally blind and their families: 833–932–3931 (83-EYE2EYE-1). Available in New York City and New Jersey
Some other helpful Resources:
- Microsoft’s Seeing AI app is a free accessible text to speech mobile application
- Freedom Scientific (manufacturer of assistive technology products for those with vision impairments or learning disabilities) offering free resources
- Be My Eyes app is a free mobile application that connects a user to remote sighted assistance
- Aira.io- app is a paid mobile application that connects a user to remote sighted assistance
Huge thank you to all those who contributed their time and talent towards this article, including:
Julie Rondan, Founder of Open Eyes Life Coaching and Consulting for organizing and hosting the Support Group for Individuals with Vision Loss and Blindness teleconference. www.openeyeslifecoachingandconsulting.com
The MassChallenge HealthTech team for their help, contributions and support!
And the biggest thank you goes out to the numerous other people working hard to ensure that #NoBlindLeftBehind no blind person is left behind during this COVID-19 pandemic!
Please let us know if you have any other tips or recommendations that can help out blind or disabled Americans and we are happy to add them to this guide. Thanks and Stay safe everyone !
You can find Zuby on Social Media:
LinkedIn / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / Youtube
using the handlses @thinkandzoom or @zubyonwuta
And also on the web via www.thinkandzoom.com or www.zubyonwuta.com
#thinkandzoom #NoBlindLeftBehind #NoDisabledLeftBehind
#Inclusionrevolution #DisabilityInclusion #Disability #Inclusion