To assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated mitigation measures on persons with sensory impairments (SI), including visual (VI) and hearing impairments (HI).
Adults with VI (best-corrected visual acuity <20/60 in the better-seeing eye), HI (ICD-10 codes), and age- and sex-matched controls (n=375) were recruited from the University of Michigan. The 34-item Coronavirus Disability Survey was administered. Chi-squared and logistic regression were used to compare survey responses between groups.
All groups reported high levels of disruption of daily life with 80% reporting "a fair amount" or "a lot" of disruption (VI:76%, HI:83%, CT: 82%, p=0.33). Participants with VI had greater difficulty with day-to-day activities and were more likely to cite the following reasons: caregiver was worried about COVID-19 (ORVI=7.2, [95% CI 3.5-14.4], p<.001) and decreased availability of public transportation (ORVI=5.0, [95% CI 1.5-15.6], p=.006). Those with VI, but not HI, showed a trend toward increased difficulty accessing medical care (ORVI=2.0, [95% CI 0.99-4.0], p=.052) and they began relying more on others for day-to-day assistance (ORVI=3.1, [95% CI 1.6-5.7], p<.001). Overall, 30% reported difficulty obtaining trusted information about the pandemic. Those with VI reported more difficulty seeing or hearing trusted information (ORVI=6.1, [95% CI 1.6-22.1], p=.006). Employed participants with HI were more likely to report a reduction in wages (ORHI=2.5, [95% CI 1.2-5.3], p=0.02).
Individuals with VI have experienced increased disruption and challenges in daily activities related to the pandemic. People with SI may benefit from targeted policy approaches to the current pandemic and future stressors. Minimal differences in some survey measures may be due to the large impact of the pandemic on the population as a whole.