• In the months since that first lockdown, I’ve grappled with many public health advices. But none are harder than these most basic ones. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
With human contact being limited, my dependence with my dog guide deepened.
By
Ria Andriani

12 Aug 2020 - 8:15 AM  UPDATED 21 Jul 2021 - 3:13 PM

In early March, a post made its round on Facebook. It was called Thanks for the snotty elbow, referencing the sighted-guidance practice vs the public health advice.

Before the pandemic, when people offered me their hands or take mine to guide me somewhere, I would stop and ask if I could hold their elbow instead.

The poster wondered if the health guideline to cough and sneeze into your elbow would put blind people (who are trained to accept the elbow for guidance) at a higher risk of catching the coronavirus. It was light-hearted, even ridiculous. But it touched a nerve – how were we, as people who are blind navigate a world where touching things with your bare hands were to be avoided at all costs?

Shortly after, Australia went into lockdown. And the most profound change to the way we live is that no longer would we accept any contact with impunity. Hand sanitisers, gloves, and now masks are things we carry and wear every day. And social/physical distancing is an entrenched part of life. 

These measures have been proven to slow the spread, even curb the advance of Coronavirus infections. But it doesn’t come simply. 

In the months since that first lockdown, I’ve grappled with many public health advices. But none are harder than these most basic ones.

In the months since that first lockdown, I’ve grappled with many public health advices. But none are harder than these most basic ones.

“Stand 1.5 meter apart at all times, don’t touch your face and avoid touching common surfaces such as handrails” … the advice ran alongside injunctions such as “wash your hands, wear a mask and stay home”. 

As someone who have a complicated issue with unsolicited touched – say, if a helpful person thinks I need help to get on the train, physical distancing is a boon. But its exactness can be challenging. How can I keep the distance of 1.5 meters away from other people without both of us stretching our arms to ensure they don’t touch?

You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone, so goes the old saying. Except what was gone was an entire means of navigating the world, I screamed internally. But this was a public health crisis, and we all have to do our bit.

Before the pandemic, I lead a relatively full and busy life: commuting, working, pursuing my passion in the arts. In the confines of my home, the scale of hard and easy is scrambled. 

Before the pandemic, I lead a relatively full and busy life: commuting, working, pursuing my passion in the arts. In the confines of my home, the scale of hard and easy is scrambled.

This was the crux of the matter. As a job holder in a crumbling economy, I had valid reasons to go out. As a blind traveller, I couldn’t go out without touching anything. As a dog guide handler, I’m well-equipped with hand sanitisers. As a human being, I couldn’t guarantee I sanitise my hands after each time I’ve touched a foreign surface.

It was a chance comment during a Zoom work catch up when a colleague, totally blind himself, explained that we could indeed practice the social distancing. “If you go with someone for shopping, you can ask them to hold the front of the trolley and you hold the handle. It’s exactly one trolley length or the 1.5 meter apart.” 

Ideas bounced around. Another colleague shared how she ran with a guide – holding each end of a 1.5 meter scarf. So much so that a guideline was developed by Vision Australia on how to stay safe in public during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Even I perked up after using a virtual assistant technology which allowed another human to see through my phone camera – and a physically-distant walk where my dog guide and I follow a support worker. We would meticulously sanitise our hands every time we touch anything, or if a certain length of time has passed.

With human contact being limited, my dependence with my dog guide deepened. Instead of bushwalking with a buddy, we go on long walks on paved nature trails. “Follow,” I’d say to him whilst a staff member of a shop takes us round the aisles to find the things I need. Life in lockdown began to feel bearable, after all.

“Follow,” I’d say to him whilst a staff member of a shop takes us round the aisles to find the things I need. Life in lockdown began to feel bearable, after all.

Since those first public health measures, there have been many others. Some are easier to follow than others. The hardest, it feels, are the ones which have been designed to be easiest. Getting tested, for example. 

For those who can’t travel to a testing site, following the advice might not be as straightforward. After a long discussion with a national helpline staff, I did find out that the NSW government does have a home testing option for people who live in Sydney.

Although the options to live safely is far from exhausted, I do feel that at each turn of this pandemic we are left to find the workarounds. Some, like wearing masks and gloves and to avoid non-essential travels, are easier than others – at least some days.

Ria Andriani is a freelance writer.

 

What Does Australia Really Think About… premieres 8:30pm Wednesday, 18 August on SBS and SBS On Demand. The three-part series continues weekly. Episodes will be repeated at 10.15pm Mondays on SBS VICELAND from 23 August.

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