With a walking cane in one hand, Kyle Robidoux does his best to navigate the sidewalk in front of a vaccination clinic in Revere, Massachusetts, the 45-year-old first started losing his vision when he was a teenager.
For Robidoux, who is legally blind, arriving at any new location always offers its set of challenges. The first time an Uber dropped him off, he was a few blocks down the street. It took nearly 30 minutes to finally get back to where he needed to be.
"The lack of familiarity definitely increases anxiety," explained Robidoux, who serves as the director of volunteer service and community planning for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
In an effort to make sure vaccination sites are accessible to others who are visually impaired, he has been working with public health officials to eliminate any obstacles that may exist for those who can't see.
Every detail matters for Robidoux. At this vaccination site, rope lines outside meant to control crowds can be confusing. While they help direct Robidoux toward the entrance, they also created a barrier.
"I think it’s great to have volunteers or staff outside any vaccination site to ask people if they need help," Robidoux explained.
Details matter, too, once inside. Robidoux recommended one vaccination site spread out their vaccine stations to allow more room for someone with a walking cane. He also told officials they needed more light. Even just eliminating one hurdle can make all the difference for some who is blind or visually impaired
"For folks like me who have some usable vision, that increases the chance I’ll be able to see that sign if it has good contrast," he explained.
Paying attention to these small details is critically important for the nearly 12 million people in the United States who have some form of vision impairment. Nearly 1 million Americans are blind and vision disability is considered one of the top 10 disabilities among adults age 18 years and older.
Manny Lopes oversees the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, the non-profit which opened the vaccination site Robidoux was helping to audit for the visually impaired.
"We really tackle this one person at a time. Whatever resources they need, we want to make sure we’re providing it," Lopes said.
It's not just vaccination sites that can be difficult to navigate. Those vaccine websites that have created frustration nationwide are often designed without the visually impaired in mind.
Robidoux’s goal is to make making sure others who are visually impaired aren't being forgotten about in this nation's vaccination campaign.
"It’s like customer service 101, trying to make people feel comfortable,” he said.