Navigating the pandemic in Richmond – if you’re blind or deaf

It’s hard to imagine life nowadays without hand-sanitizing stations everywhere and giant red dots on the ground to show you how far to keep apart outside stores.

However, that’s the reality every single day for Richmondite Tommy Leung, who’s completely blind.

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Leung, for all intents and purposes, has been housebound during the pandemic and is completely reliant on his wife, Becky Lei.

In fact, his independence has been stripped to such an extent that garbage day is the highlight of his week, when he accompanies Lei downstairs from their condo near Cambie and Garden City roads.

The simple fact is Leung uses touch and feel to navigate his way around the world – which is not surprisingly off the table with a potentially deadly virus sweeping the globe.

“I used to have a guide dog. I would have went out with him a lot but he passed away prior to the pandemic,” said Leung, 40, who has been blind for 20 years due to glaucoma.

“I’m waiting for guide dog training, but that’s not possible due to the pandemic. All the classes have been cancelled.

“But I do have my wife to help me. That way, I don’t have to feel my way around. I don’t want to be using the elevator or even the brail panels.

“I didn’t even know there were hand-sanitizing stations around in stores and buildings, until someone told me. There’s no way for me to know where they are. And I wouldn’t know where to start to look for them.

“I’m told there are social distancing signs on the ground. I can’t see them, obviously, and I can’t feel them with my cane. So I’ve no way to keep a social distance from people at stores.”

Navigating the pandemic in Richmond – if you’re blind or deaf_3
Tommy Leung (left) with his wife, Becky Lei, crossing the busy Odlin Road. - Alan Campbell

Leung said he can’t even use public washrooms because of the need for him to feel around, even with the use of his cane.

“I’ve not been out at all since the pandemic, to be honest,” he added.

“Apart from garbage day. My wife and I go downstairs in our condo building and I get some air and exercise while she puts the garbage away.”

The one silver-lining during the pandemic is Leung being able to work from home for his job in Vancouver, as a peer support and advocacy coordinator for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).

“One of the big concerns was accessing public transit to my office in Vancouver,” said Leung.

“If I had to take transit, I couldn’t see what I was touching. And if the buses are full to capacity, due to the reduced schedule, they could just shoot past me and there’s no way for me to know that.”


Another person with new challenges in life beyond what many of us are experiencing during the pandemic is Min Yuan, who has been deaf for 38 of her 40 years, due to an accident as a small child.

Navigating the pandemic in Richmond – if you’re blind or deaf_0
Min Yuan, who has been deaf for 38 of her 40 years, is having to try to communicate with people who're wearing face masks. - Photo submitted

Yuan, who works closely with the Richmond Centre for Disability, mainly communicated, when face-to-face with people, via lip-reading, something that’s become nigh impossible when the wearing of face masks became prevalent.

“Sometimes I don’t understand them (even without a mask),” said Yuan to the Richmond News, via email, while acknowledging that it has now become almost impossible to know what someone is saying.

“Even if they speak English, (I could usually) understand what they say, because the eyes are my ears, and my eyes are clear. It will speak and tell me what the other party said.”

Yuan said, however, she is a “very optimistic and positive person” and “can face the difficulties and face the reality…I am willing to challenge the difficulties.”

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