Avoiding risk of infection during the pandemic means reducing contacts in our routines, but the sense of touch has been crucial for visually impaired people, so how have they been adjusting, particularly in the classroom?
Rie Kiyono started teaching her community English class in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba area on a Saturday morning by reviewing and reciting the alphabet and numbers with her students. It looked just like a typical English class—except that all her students have visual impairments. She started by turning on her voice recorder and calling each student’s name based on their seating arrangements.
Kiyono started her English class for the visually impaired at the Tokyo Metropolitan Welfare Association of the Blind back in 2005 and her class has grown ever since—until the pandemic started. Due to the effects and protocols necessary during the outbreak, her class was paused.
According to the World Health Organization, people with disabilities face added risks during a pandemic that has made them less independent. Mostly using their sense of touch to navigate and relying on sighted attendants, the students found these two things becoming potential risks for coronavirus infections.
Jin K., who didn’t want to have his last name mentioned, and Kazuhiro Takemoto said that they started going out less to avoid commuting. The reason for this is because they find it difficult to socially distance themselves from other people. For example, they cannot always tell if others around them are implementing the coronavirus safety measures—such as keeping masks on at all times— and if they’ve distanced themselves far enough.
During the pandemic, Kiyono refrained from having her students make contact with anything via touch, which is challenging since they used to touch the materials used for her lessons, if they were available, such as a pop-up map of different cities in the world. This used to be a valuable learning experience. She and her students could now only wait until it was safe to resume their class again.
In another part of Tokyo, Kazuhiro Uno, an English teacher at Tsukuba’s Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired, mentioned that it was closed temporarily during the first state of emergency in April 2020. Now, the school has reopened with a few adjustments. Before the pandemic, the students would sit in squares to accommodate an easier learning experience. When needed, they could share learning materials or class equipment so they could use their sense of touch as part of their learning process. They would sing songs together during the music class and work in teams during physical education. Additionally, when necessary, students who are partially sighted could help guide their friends who are completely blind.
However, this peer assistance has become a potential hazard during the pandemic, making it a risky decision for both the partially blind student who wants to assist and the blind ones being assisted. During P.E., all team activities are restricted and singing is also prohibited.
Furthermore, their desk arrangement has been switched to a traditional classroom setting—all facing the same direction with the teacher at the front of the class.
The biggest change in the school schedule has been the lunch break.
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