TWENTY-ONE: COVID-19 and Blind Spaces: Responding to Digital (In)Accessibility and Social Isolation During Lockdown for Blind, Deafblind, Low Vision, and Vision Impaired Persons in Aotearoa New Zealand

In response to increasing confirmed cases of COVID- 19, the resident population of Aotearoa New Zealand entered a seven- week lockdown at midnight on March 25, 2020. The first five weeks were at level 4, with the population instructed to remain in their homes and associate only with those in their immediate household. All public gatherings were banned, non- essential businesses required to close public- facing services, domestic travel severely curtailed, and the border closed to all non- citizens. Official sources of information were daily 1pm briefings by the Prime Minister and the Director General of Health. These were broadcast live via radio, television, news websites, and social media. There was also a dedicated COVID- 19 information website.1 The requirement to stay at home saw increased numbers of people working from home and increased use of video conferencing software (for example Zoom) as a mechanism for ‘meeting with’ colleagues, family, and friends. In this manner, digital and associated technologies extended the interpersonal space of the home beyond the physical confines of the domestic dwelling, drawing people together in digital spaces. Digital technologies integrated the previously separated workspace into the home environment allowing work colleagues to ‘see into’ personal spaces (see Hubbard, Volume 2; van Melik et al, Volume 3). This blurring of work and home shifted thinking about work contexts. Overall, the combination of lockdown, daily briefings, and increased digital connectivity contributed to a sense of shared experience across the country. However, these shared experiences were not equally available across the citizenry, with the COVID- 19 pandemic exacerbating existing inequities.

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