Episodes

How are Blind Folks Dealing with the Pandemic?

The Be My Eyes Podcast
March 26, 2020

In the last two weeks, the whole world has changed. The global economy has all but slammed to a halt, people are locked in their houses and not allowed to leave except for essential tasks, and the self-isolation has presented humans with a whole new set of challenges they probably never imagined having. Today we take an overview look at how the blind community is reacting, share some resources as starting points for blind and low vision folks looking to learn more, and chat with Be My Eyes communications officer Cecilie Skou Andersen about what's going on in Denmark.

Show notes:

Listen on:

Episode Transcript

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

You can be by yourself, it can be with other people. It's this feeling of being comfortable, enjoying what you're doing, and just getting the best of it, and just feeling, feeling cozy. A lot of things can be hygge.

Will Butler:

You're listening to the Be My Eyes Podcast, I'm Will Butler.

Will Butler:

This week, how to get comfortable with quarantine. Plus a little Danish perspective, what's going on behind the scenes at Be My Eyes.

Will Butler:

We're taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to talk a little bit about coronavirus, about how everyone is dealing, and to more than anything, give you some useful resources. We're not here to speculate. We're not here to offer up our own opinions about what's going on. We want to give you news you can use.

Will Butler:

We're also going to check in with Cecilie Skou Anderson, our Communications Officer at Be My Eyes, to get a little behind the scenes on what is going on at our office, or lack thereof, and how everyone is adjusting, and what we're doing in light of all the events associated with this pandemic.

Will Butler:

So without further ado, here's the list. Let's kick it off with some very practical information, and as the leaf blower comes even closer, I want to tell everyone about Zoom keyboard shortcuts. Obviously every software has its own keyboard shortcuts, but as many of you are going to be using Zoom over the next couple of months, you should probably know what option-Y, or Alt-Y does on your keyboard, that's allows you to raise your hand. This and more shortcuts are available on Zoom's website. You can Google just, "Zoom keyboard shortcuts," or you can click the link on the show notes and get some Zoom keyboard shortcuts.

Will Butler:

The next resource which I thought would be really interesting to point folks to is accessible coronavirus statistics. There are a lot of graphs, and shapes, and curves, and pancakes, and hills, and mountains, and all these things out there, all these metaphors used to describe what is happening in our world right now, and there's not a lot of sites that present this information in totally accessibly. So a developer, a software developer from VFO Tyler Littlefield put together a very simple, very straightforward site that gives you up-to-date statistics, by the day of number of cases recovered, and deaths related to coronavirus split up by country, split up by state. Super, super interesting and it's nice to see some objective data. You can get all that info cvstats.net, cvstats.net, and a big thank you to Tyler Littlefield for putting that together.

Will Butler:

The helicopter hanging over my head right now makes me think maybe we should chat about Hangouts. Not everyone is totally used to Google Hangouts. It's totally fine, but they do have a dedicated accessibility page to help you get comfortable as a screen reader user, or an assistive technology user, about Hangouts Meet, and the accessibility of that product. Because you might be getting some Google Hangout meeting invites in the next couple of months here, and when you get those, you want to be able to jump on them just as quickly and easily as everyone else.

Will Butler:

Switching gears a bit, there has been a little bit of coronavirus journalism pointed at the blind community. There was an ABC news story that came out last week, which featured all of our favorite acronyms. Folks from AFB, NFB, ACB, and others all sort of weighed in on what this crisis means for the blind community. You can find that link in the show notes, or just Google the ABC news story on blindness and coronavirus.

Will Butler:

The takeaways, big takeaways from that include just frankly a lot of concern and speculation over transportation, wondering about how to get food and whatnot, and I don't think it presents anything particularly new that you wouldn't have thought of as a blind person yourself, but it's nice to see members of the community out there speaking on our behalf, making sure that people who are the decision makers in these situations don't forget about us. Speaking of ACB, there's going to be a special live board meeting where the ACB is going to talk a lot, I presume about topics related to coronavirus and its implications for the blind community.

Will Butler:

You can listen in on ACB radio to this special meeting. They're going to be talking about the current impact of COVID-19 and they're going to make some decisions about a upcoming ACB conference and convention. That's at acbradio.com. You can probably expect to hear similar live streams coming from NFB and others, and of course all of those organizations have resource pages which you can find linked on the show notes at bemyeyes.com/podcasts.

Will Butler:

Big announcement from Freedom Scientific VFO Group over there, a free JAWS. Free JAWS, ZoomText and Fusion, for anyone who's interested, that's of course the sort of standard assistive technology, screen reading software for Windows that will allow folks who don't have those business licenses at home to get that expensive software installed on their home computer. Those licenses will be valid through June 30th, and you can find out more about that at the Freedom Scientific website, freedomscientific.com/sponsoredsoftware is the link you want to follow to find out about the free JAWS, ZoomText and Fusion offer.

Will Butler:

Some other interesting things happening amongst the other English-speaking blindness organizations around the world, down under in Australia we're seeing the blind citizens Australia setting up happy hours for every day of the week for their members. That's a Zoom happy hour, obviously. If you're a member of that organization, or if you're not just maybe looking at that model as of a progressive approach toward making sure that you bring everyone together. Those happy hours are occurring Monday through Friday every day of the week. This is an interesting thing to observe.

Will Butler:

Similarly, the RNIB is trying to make sure that people know how to get in touch with them. They've established a help line that has special hours and special availability, I believe considering the COVID-19 situation. You can find out more about the RNIB helpline by going to rnib.org.uk/rnib-helpline.

Will Butler:

When it comes to podcasts, everyone is talking about coronavirus. Listening through to some of these other great blindness related podcasts you can hear musician [Stephen Letnes 00:06:37] interviewed on Jeff Thompson's Blind Abilities Podcasts talking about when it comes to advocating for ourselves on a political level, what can we do, what can we say to our representatives to make sure we don't get forgotten?

Will Butler:

Our friends who came on to talk tech recently, the RNIB Tech Talk Crew are still hard at work. Of course they're doing good stuff over there at Double Tap Canada talking about [inaudible 00:06:57] social isolation and its implications over there.

Will Butler:

And then of course you got Tim Schwartz from that crew working on the Life After Blindness Podcast coming to turn out some new episodes for you as well. These are just the few resources that we were able to compile in the week leading up to this podcast, but there are going to be more to come. And be sure to visit the show notes at bemyeyes.com/podcasts to get these direct links.

Will Butler:

Before we switch over to our chat with Cecilie, I want to leave you with an idea that Stephen Scott over at Double Tap Canada presented that really resonated with me and maybe it will resonate with you too. You know the economy has slowed down, and along with that our consumption has slowed down. We're stuck in our houses. We're not consuming, we're not buying things the way that we were just two weeks ago.

Will Butler:

So what Steven said is that he felt like we were switching our mindsets from being about things, to being about people. I don't know if that's true for every single one of you. I know many of you are struggling to figure out how you're going to make ends meet. But I think that it's definitely a powerful and exciting thing to think about how our relationships can strengthen through all of this adversity that we're now facing.

Will Butler:

If you know about some resources, or just have ideas for things that may be valuable to people, you can email us at community@bemyeyes.com, and we would love to hear what your thoughts are on all of this, this whole situation.

Will Butler:

So I rang up our Communications Officer Cecilie this evening, well it was about 10:00 AM my time, but I think she was already onto her first glass of red wine in Denmark. She talked to us to give us a sense of what's going on with the Be My Eyes team in Denmark, and what's going on with Be My Eyes as a company, and how are we dealing with all this.

Will Butler:

We are all about creating a sense of family and community at Be My Eyes, and we just wanted to share with you what we're doing as a very small team to get adjusted. She also explained to us the meaning behind a very important Danish word, which is more relevant than ever during these times. If you can guess what it is, you get a prize.

Will Butler:

Cecilie, thank you so much for joining us from Denmark.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah, thank you.

Will Butler:

Cecilie's our Communications Officer at Be My Eyes, and is that based out of our headquarters in Aarhus.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah. I'm the Communications Officer for Be My Eyes. I've been with the company since August, 2017. So, so far for quite a while now, and through many different phases of the company. It looks very different now than when I started back in 2017. And yeah, I'm behind the scenes a lot, for a lot of the content and everything you see, but not out in the light so often.

Will Butler:

Once in a while we get you on a Instagram Live or some sort of media, right?

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah. Some people might know me like...

Will Butler:

Cecilie, are you home-officing now? What's going on? Can you paint a picture for us?

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah. So as you said, normally I'm located at the Be My Eyes headquarters located in Aarhus in Denmark, a very nice city. It's the second largest city in Denmark.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

We have a very, very nice office there. We are around 10 people in the office. But yeah, during the current corona situation, pretty much the whole of Denmark has closed down, and everyone who can work from home has to work from home. And everyone that are not needed has been sent home from their work. So I'm doing a home office now from my small little studio apartment in the center of Aarhus. So it's a very different situation than what I'm used to.

Will Butler:

It's only been a week. But any tips that you've found? Any tricks you found to help get through it?

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah. You very quickly learn what are some big mistakes. Like the first day I was, "Okay, like I'm going to enjoy being at home. I'm going to be in my pajamas, work from my bed." But that was probably the biggest mistake I've made. So I found it helpful to try to stick to your routine as much as you can. Like get up at the same time in the morning, or a little later maybe when you don't have to commute.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

But I find it helpful to like just try to get ready as I would if I was going to the office. Like get up, get my breakfast, get my coffee, put on what clothes I want to wear, and get ready as if I was going to go to the office. And then I find my computer, and I sit down and I start working. And then it kind of puts you in like a better space, mind space to actually work instead of everything pretty much just flowing together because you just go out of your bed and try to work and everything is just like a big mush of work and what else you're doing.

Will Butler:

Yeah, I want to talk about routine because a lot of blind people today are completely thrown out of their normal routines. And we all survive and thrive on routines. But for people who are blind or visually impaired, it's like not having your regular stores open, not being able to get on that same bus line that you usually get on, and sit next to a bunch of strangers. All of these things completely throw a wrench in the lives of blind and visually impaired people. And I wanted to have you talk a little bit about what's going on at Be My Eyes, what's going on with the app during this time, and what can users expect?

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

So users can expect pretty much what they can always expect from Be My Eyes. We're still going. We're not closing anything down like a lot of like stores and the services people usually use are Be My Eyes is still working 100%. And we maybe even, I don't know if you can say better in the situation we're in, but because the volunteers are at home, they are, a lot of them, they're not really doing anything right now. So they have so much time to help out for people who are not in their regular routine.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

And I think yeah, for people who are blind or visually impaired, not being in their regular routine can cause a lot of accessibility barriers if they can't go to the places they usually go to shop, if a lot of stores has sold out items, or they can't find what they're looking for, or they don't have their regular support system around because they're self isolating and taking distance from people. Suddenly a lot of accessibility barriers might occur that they might not have in their regular life.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

So in that sense Be My Eyes can really come in and be helpful for people in this situation. And also be a connection to another human being in a time where we are pretty much stripped of all social interaction right now. So in that sense Be My Eyes can maybe make even more of a difference than usually. So I think it's a situation where Be My Eyes can really show its strength.

Will Butler:

How about specialized help? Are all those partners still on board? And they're going to be more? What's going on over there?

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah. So all the specialized help partners is still on board. They're still open and available for blind users to call. And we're also working really hard on getting more companies on board in this time that can really support and make a difference for our blind community in the situation we're in now.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

It's a very different situation than what we were in just a couple of weeks ago. So we really want to also support the companies that want to support the blind community throughout this time. So we're working really hard on bringing a lot of new partners on board. And hopefully we'll be able to tell more about that very soon.

Will Butler:

So you mentioned it's an opportunity to connect. It's maybe also an opportunity to use Be My Eyes in sort of unconventional ways. You wrote an article for the blog recently about a inside inside time. Can you tell us about that?

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah, so with a lot of people self isolating and spending more time at home, I think a lot of people, whether they are sighted, or blind, or low vision, they're finding themselves with some extra time on their hands that they might not really know what to do with. And people are always looking for more things to try to kill the time. I know I am.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

And so I was just, I was thinking that it would be a great opportunity to try to give some examples for people on what they can do. And the article I wrote is made in the angle on like things you can do with Be My Eyes in and around your house, but if you're a sighted volunteer, you can also do all these things to kill some time without using Be My Eyes. But these are also things that if you are blind, and you need a couple of eyes to help you out, you can definitely use Be My Eyes for it. So they are plenty of things, both practical and more fun things that you can do to try to get the most out of the situation we're in.

Will Butler:

Trying out some new recipes.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah, it can be trying a new recipe, trying to, a lot of people are baking or cooking some nice cozy dinners. That is also super nice to do now that you have extra time. You don't get home late from work maybe. And just something that's comforting in a time that's full of uncertainty.

Will Butler:

Yeah, the Danes, this is a perfect time, the Danes need to give us a lesson about coziness because Denmark's all about the, what is it called, hygge?

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

It's called hygge.

Will Butler:

Hygge.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah. So it pretty much translate to coziness. And it's just a very big cultural term in Denmark. And it can be many things, like it's just, it can be like a feeling or an atmosphere of you just like enjoying yourself. You can be by yourself, you can be with other people. It's just like this feeling of like being comfortable enjoying what you're doing, and just like getting the best of it, and just feeling cozy.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

So a lot of things can be hygge. It can be everything from just like cuddling up under a blanket, watching a movie to just like baking together with your family. As long as there's like a good atmosphere, and you enjoy what you're doing, and just try to make the best of it. That's pretty much hygge, and it's, we always strive to make things hygge in Denmark.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

And I think it's also a concept that I know other cultures have started to pay attention to. And it has also spread somewhat in the US. I know there's, you could get this Little Book Of Hygge that tries to like explain the concept of hygge and how you could attain that yourself.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

And I remember when I studied abroad in the US five years ago. I studied abroad at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. And I was taking an intercultural communications class, and we also had this class where we talked about concepts from different cultures that couldn't really be translated, and that didn't really exist in maybe the like American culture. And that was, hygge was one of the examples that our teacher brought up. And we were two Danes in the class, and she was also grabbing the opportunity to actually get some inside knowledge there.

Will Butler:

I couldn't think of a better time for that concept to come into being for the rest of the world, right? We that we need that more than anything right now.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah, we really do. And yeah, it can be, you can pretty much make every situation you find yourself in hygge. It can be like everything from just like lighting an nice candle, to cuddling up, or having fun with your friends, but maybe now do it on FaceTime. Like just connect with a couple of friends on FaceTime. Like maybe drink a glass of wine together. Or yeah, light a candle and cuddle up to like your favorite series. And so it's a perfect time to just like make the most of hygge.

Will Butler:

Thank you so much Cecilie for joining us from Denmark and telling us a little bit more about what's going on behind the scenes at Be My Eyes. We really, really appreciate it.

Cecilie Skou Anderson:

Yeah, of course. And I hope everyone will stay safe and I think if we stand together as a community, we can make it through together, and come out stronger on the other side. And I think Be My Eyes is one of those communities that still stands in a situation like this where people might not be able to participate in those communities they participate in on a regular basis in their normal lives. So I hope that Be My Eyes gives everyone in both blind and low vision users, and sighted volunteers, and whoever is in the community, that sense of community that I think most people are missing right now.

Will Butler:

Thanks to Cecilie. And thank you for listening. We're going to continue bringing you resources, news, and things to think about, about what it means to be blind or visually impaired during these times, and what it will mean as we come out of these times and start to build the world the way that we'd like to see it.