Courtesy of the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired ACBVI staff train clients on using assistive technology, such as this braille note taker.
Courtesy of the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The state’s vaccine registration website is still inaccessible to visually impaired people, so the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is stepping up to help.

As vaccinations opened to most residents across the state Wednesday, one Arizona organization is offering help to those who may have difficulty registering for appointments.

The Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ACBVI) is offering to help people with vision loss or combined vision and hearing loss make their COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

ACBVI can help individuals navigate the state and county online or phone registration systems, find transportation to the vaccination sites, and communicate in American Sign Language for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Making Vaccines Accessible

Approximately 200,000 people in Arizona are living with some form of blindness or visual impairment, according to ACBVI Executive Director Steve Tepper.

“Those are the people who we are really desperately trying to make sure … if they want a vaccine, there’s no additional barrier, and that we make it as seamless and as easy as we possibly can for them to get that vaccine,” Tepper said.

Arizonans who are blind, deaf, or visually impaired and who need help registering for a vaccine appointment can email ACBVI at vaccine@acbvi.org, or call 602-273-7411.

ACBVI Client Intake Specialist Toni Young uses screen magnification on her computer.
Courtesy of the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Pandemic Has Hit Blind, Visually Impaired Community Hard

ACBVI has worked in Phoenix for more than 75 years to help people who have lost their vision regain their independence through life and job skills training.

But since the onset of the pandemic, those communities have faced more barriers and challenges in moving through the world, including registering for vaccination appointments.

For people who interact with the world using their hands, the likelihood of transmitting and picking up germs has increased, Tepper says. Additionally, it’s harder for blind and visually impaired people to determine how far away someone is from them, making staying the recommended six feet apart for social distancing more difficult.

Many blind or visually impaired people also have underlying health or medical conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus.

Tepper says that the immense speed in which the vaccines were approved and developed also meant that aspects like fully-accessible vaccine registration websites were not a priority. 

“In that speed, they weren’t able to make (websites) as accessible as they would like,” he said. 

People who are blind and visually impaired typically use a screen reader to browse the internet. Screen readers are a software application that moves through websites and converts text, images and links into a format that visually impaired people are able to use, typically through synthesized speech or braille. 

But the Department of Health Service’s vaccine registration website is incompatible with screen readers, an issue that has yet to be solved, according to Tepper.

A braille display attaches to a keyboard and provides braille output from the computer.
A braille display attaches to a keyboard and provides braille output from the computer.

Tepper said the department has committed to making the site more accessible, but that hasn’t happened yet, and there’s still a tremendous need for visually impaired people to be vaccinated.

While having a disability does not uniquely qualify individuals for the vaccine, as of Wednesday, vaccine appointments are open to most people throughout the state, so Tepper encouraged any individuals who are eligible and need assistance making their appointment to reach out.

“During the pandemic it’s become really acute that there needs to be assistance with vaccine registration,” Tepper said. “We are here to do that.”

Reach the reporter at lorraine@couriernewsroom.com or 480-243-4086.

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