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Increasing at-home COVID test accessibility for the blind

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jan 05, 2022

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Accessibility in health care for low vision people has always been an issue, but the pandemic exacerbated inequities.

From social distancing to public transit shut downs, there have been obstacles. The latest is at-home COVID tests. They are hard to come by and for a blind person, even if they get one, it’s impossible for them to complete on their own.

“Every COVID at-home test I know of requires some sort of visual identification of the result,” said Mark Riccobono, the president of the National Federation of the Blind.

Riccobono said people are writing or calling every day, concerned about the accessibility.

Their only option is relying on someone else to help them.

“We don’t want to unknowingly expose friends, family, associates to COVID if you don’t have to,” said Riccobono. “A lot of blind people live independently, which is the goal, they don’t have someone who can see readily available to them.”

The issue of accessible testing is nothing new. The Pennsylvania-based company Accessible Pharmacy started in 2019 as a full service health care company specializing in the medication management needs of the blind and low vision community.

They partner with the app Be My Eyes to help low vision individuals with medical issues, from recognizing pills or reading labels to determining how many puffs are left on an inhaler.

“One of the most common tests that we do via Be My Eyes are helping people monitor their glucose levels,” said Andy Burstein, co-founder of Accessible Pharmacy.

So it was natural to partner with them to make COVID testing accessible.

“Our main objective is to either get one of our test kits into an individual’s hands or have them contact us with one of their test kits, and using Be My Eyes, guide them through the process of self-administering the test and also understanding the results,” said Burnstein.

“By removing the challenges of sight or the lack or sight as a variable in administering these tests, it does make it so much easier for the blind and low vision community,” said Alex Cohen, co-founder of Accessible Pharmacy.

Riccobono said the one hang up with this is it relies on a smart phone with cell service.

“There’s a real economic disparity there because if you’re a blind person who’s unemployed you may not have access to a smart phone,” said Riccobon.

Riccobono and the federation are working on a long term fix.

With the Biden Administration buying half a billion COVID tests to distribute for free, the Federation of the Blind sent a letter asking to be partners in making them accessible.

“This is equal access to government services and blind people deserve the same protections as everybody else,” said Riccobono.

Riccobono also hopes that these innovations could help move other at-homes test like pregnancy tests, towards inclusion.

“We think there’s an opportunity here, especially with the government getting ready to distribute tests, to innovate in the home testing market and make things truly, maybe for the first time, accessible to blind people,” said Riccobono.

Accessible Pharmacy is licensed and active in Maryland. You can reach them at 215-799-9900.