CLEVELAND — For the last 24 years, Cathy Javorsky has been the friendly face and voice at the front desk at the Cleveland Sight Center.

What You Need To Know

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 12 million people 40 years and older are visually impaired in the United States

  • COVID-19 has proved to be all the more challenging for those living with disabilities who already experience inaccessibility and isolation in their everyday lives

  • The lack of braille on at-home COVID-19 tests is sparking conversations about the ways the lack of braille labels in general impacts the blind community

Javorsky found her way there after losing her vision at age 22.

“Never expected this to happen," she said. "I went to school, got a job, got married (and) had kids. And when my kids were 1 and 2 in 1980, I developed a pseudotumor. And by the time I had surgery, it had swelled so large that it crushed the optic nerves. So, it damaged the nerves to where I couldn’t see.”

She has her own way of doing things that allows her to navigate the world with independence. For example, she puts "dots" on certain buttons on her phone and keys on her computer.

But the lack of braille labels on everyday items make everyday tasks a challenge.

“And then even if it was brailled, you have to be that blind person that knows braille," she said. "Not every blind person reads braille.”

Advancements in technology like talking computers, braille and her guide dog, Rogue, help a lot.

"There is a way around most things that a blind person can do that a sighted person can do. You know, we have so many different aids and appliances that help us now,” said Javorsky.

But shopping remains one major obstacle. The Sight Center has the Eyedea Shop.

“Walking in here, it's not like walking into Walmart, Discount Drug Mart, Target or anything like that," said Javorsky. "In here, you're going to say, 'Is there somebody here that can help you? And they're going to say yes, of course we can. What can we show you?”

It’s designed specifically with the needs of the visually impaired in mind, but most stores do not cater to the blind.

“Whether it's a grocery store and you're looking for cheddar cheese, as opposed to monterey jack cheese, or you're looking for, you know, shampoo or conditioner or Vicks VapoRub or you know, something like that. There's no labeling on anything," she said. "You'd either have to know exactly what the tube looks like. And then again, you got to find the aisle.” 

It’s an ongoing issue the pandemic has shined a new light on. For example, at-home COVID-19 tests rely heavily on visual instructions. There is no braille. Without the help of a sighted person, taking the test is inaccessible for someone who cannot see.

“Never experienced having to take a COVID test, but I would imagine that I know I couldn't do it by myself," said Javorksy. "I wouldn't know the first thing about it. If this is a COVID test that I have in my hand, how do I open it? What am I not supposed to touch? What am I supposed to touch?”

Javorsky is hopeful that technology will continue to improve to make things more accessible and she wants to remind others to not take anything for granted.

“Unless you are dealt with a disability, I don't think anybody can say, 'Oh, I know what it's like to be in a wheelchair. Oh, I know what it's like to be deaf.' Until you walk around for a day being blindfolded, no pun intended, it would be a very eye-opening experience," said Javorsky.