• Itto Outini

COVID-19 Has Made Me Lose My Senses

Updated: May 31, 2020

In my small city of Meknes, I had to rely on my senses. Blind since the age of 17, I would use my walking stick to navigate the busy streets and broken sidewalks, and enter the grocery store with my nose held high. I followed the smells to the fresh food section where I breathed in bundles of cilantro and parsley. Grocery shopping in Morocco would be impossible for a blind person without the sense of smell.

Coming to Fayetteville, Arkansas to study on a Fulbright scholarship three years ago has meant liberation. I can rely on the Wal-Mart personal assistant to pick up my food and the free “Be My Eyes” app in which a sighted person volunteer helps me find the aisles and items I need.

Covid-19 has changed everything. To grocery shop, I must rely on my friends, as social distancing and masks that cover my nose have made it impossible to shop alone. Online shopping has experienced huge growth as big corporation implement changes to meet the demand. But in the rush, they have made mistakes that have left the disabled community bewildered. For a blind person, the hastily uploaded images on sites such as Amazon are not always as described, and buttons are not labelled for screen reading software that reads text and screen images using a voice synthesizer.

And then there’s my cane. For 13 years my cane has been my guide to the world. Even new places were not frightening, thanks to the magic of the white walking stick. Armed with my cane, I had felt fearless and ready to explore many destinations. Then, when WHO announced Covid-19 as a global pandemic, I was frightened because my cane could not distinguish the 6 ft distance required for “social distancing.” Suddenly, even asking someone to help me cross the road has become uncomfortable because of the fear of physical contact that the virus has imposed. The white cane that was a silent friend now lies untouched in the corner of my room.

The pandemic has also deprived me of my ability to touch. The gloves were soft and cozy as I slid them onto my hands. But I no longer feel the touch of the braille books that brought me a vast array of knowledge. I can no longer access the touch screen on my phone, so it has become nothing better than a rock in my hands. As a result, I have lost the concept of time.

Lost in my own world, I have thought deeply about the value of senses and have wondered how anyone could cope without them. I never appreciated them as much as when I became powerless. I am impatiently waiting to re-connect with them again, and thus regain a measure of independence I lost to Covid-19.

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