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Coronavirus: Social distancing for the visually impaired in Italy

Published
19 July
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  • Coronavirus pandemic
Italian photographer Stefano Sbrulli documented the difficulties of blind and visually impaired people as they adapt to a world of social distancing.
Italy faced one of the strictest and longest-running Covid-19 lockdowns in Europe.
Those with visual disabilities often need companions or assistance services to go about their day-to-day lives, which can make social distancing a challenge.
Here are some of Sbrulli's portraits and stories, gathered between March and June.

Lucilla, 55, Rome

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Lucilla is an art history teacher and sculptor. She lost her sight due to a degenerative illness.
"I often count the steps to get to a place, [so] if you change something on the way, I get lost.
"I haven't gone shopping yet. I usually take the Metro C but in San Giovanni they changed everything, and this limits my exits and makes it more difficult".

Twins Lorenzo and Francesco, 13, Rome

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Lorenzo likes to play drums and Francesco loves to sing, but during quarantine the courses they were enrolled on stopped.
They are twins, both blind, and often enjoy playing and singing on the porch until sunset.
The teaching activity at their middle school also stopped and the support teacher couldn't assist them at home.
Instead, their mother and grandmother support them, with considerable effort.
They are unable to lead an independent life, and social distancing risks isolating them.
"They should be the first in a society, not the last," says Grandma Anna.

Simona, 35, Rome

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Simona has always led an independent life; she'd go out, go to work and meet friends with ease.
However, she hasn't gone for a walk in months.
"I have to say that the idea of leaving the house gives me some anxiety," she says.
"I live in Lucio Sestio and I often use the subway, but now I know that the exits and the entrances have changed to facilitate the distancing of people, [so] I'm afraid of feeling lost.
"There is also no tactile path that can help me maintain orientation".

Ettore, 50, Rome

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Ettore is visually impaired and is totally autonomous; he works and travels a lot, dealing with care services for people with his own disability.
During the lockdown, apart from a slight feeling of isolation, he coped well.
Now he's struggling when he goes shopping - he needs time to figure out what he's buying, read the expiration dates and prices.
But he fears the intolerance of others and feels the pressure to do things faster. His face mask fogs up his glasses and the use of gloves complicates things.

Marco, 31, Rome

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Marco took the bus every day to reach the offices of the Bank of Italy, where he works.
He lives with his parents and two brothers in a small house.
The lockdown made everything more complicated, because working from home forced him into a confined space for too long.
The important thing for him is to be able to go back to the office.

Matteo, 32, Rome

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Matteo is partially sighted and works for a public office.
He is also a sportsman and was chosen to represent Italy in adaptive surfing at the California World Championships, but the pandemic prevented him from participating.
He leads an independent life, with the help of his guide dog.
During part of the lockdown he could not take his dog to the park for exercise.
"A guide dog must always be at the top, because if he is sick he cannot help me," he says.

Camilla, 35, Rome

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Camilla takes care of the paths inside museums for the City of Rome.
She is visually impaired, and despite leading a semi-autonomous life, is very afraid to go out at this time.
There are a lot more electric bikes and scooters around - and she's afraid of getting run over.
"We should rethink metropolitan mobility, taking into account the visually impaired, especially in this period," she says.
One of the biggest difficulties she encountered during the lockdown, and continues to face, is the lack of care services.
"The civil service has stopped and we still do not know when it will start again".

Angelina 90, Santa Marinella

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Angelina lives in a care home.
Visits from her relatives make her happy, but they stopped during lockdown and now there can only be a limited number of people visiting for a shortened period of time.
She was excited when photographer Sbrulli offered to take her out for an ice cream.
But her voice became sad when they were told that she could not leave because of safety restrictions.

Arianna, 31, and Stefano, 45, Salerno

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Arianna is blind and Stefano, her husband, is visually impaired. They always hold hands and Julie, their guide dog, wags her tail at their side.
They live in Perugia, but as soon as it was possible to travel they moved to be with Arianna's mother in Salerno.
"Perhaps now, for fear of contagion, people will be more attentive to us; they will be careful not to stumble on the stick and avoid caressing Julie as she accompanies me to work," says Arianna.
"It may seem absurd, but if the dog gets distracted, I completely lose orientation."

Antony, 31, Rome

image copyrightStefano Sbrulli
Antony has been blind for nine years. He misses spending time with his girlfriend, who lives on the other side of the city.
He is very skilled with his stick and still manages to maintain safe distances from people.
"But if I need help, or I have to lean on a companion, things get complicated," he explains.
He hopes that the people he meets during his daily activities are understanding.
All photographs by Stefano Sbrulli

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