Advocates for visually disabled support, educate amid outbreak

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI) in Grand Rapids can deliver essential items to clients’ doorsteps thanks to a grant from Heart of West Michigan United Way.

The $15,000 is helping the organization still support those it serves despite the pandemic impacting operations. Currently, seven of ABVI’s 12 employees are furloughed.

Christina Hedlich, occupational therapist and low-vision specialist, is still working. Their primary focus with the grant is packing boxes for clients with toiletries and food.

“This allows the clients to be able to not have to worry about going to the grocery stores,” Hedlich told News 8. “A lot of them are seniors who maybe can’t drive or other people with vision impairments who can’t drive anyways, so public transportation is their main mode of transportation. We’re also helping to serve those in younger age groups as well who have needs. We don’t want anybody left behind.”

The pandemic poses an added sense of stress and challenges for those with sight limitations. For many, added attention has been devoted to sanitizing surfaces and items brought inside. That’s difficult to confidently accomplish for people who navigate life through touch.

“They’re not sure what they can touch or not touch. What they need to clean when they get back home after they’ve been out in the community, so it’s different for them and they’re not able to see what they’re cleaning like you and I can as easily,” Hedlich explained.

As much as the sneeze guards put in at grocery and other stores are necessary to protect workers, the barriers can be difficult to see.

Hedlich hopes businesses consider putting bright tape around the edges or sides to help it stand out.

“That allows them to know where the barrier is. It gives more contrast,” she added. “They’re not able to see the clear plastic.”

ABVI has spent more than a century advocating for and empowering those the organization serves. Like everyone, the hope is to get through this pandemic and continue providing support.

More information about ABVI’s services can be found online.