Close up of painted frog spawn tied into a pattern.
Close-up from a work called "Patternwork" by John Finn.

Zero point one per cent?

John Finn reflects on being Deaf and Blind in a time of universal isolation.

I have to admit that I am one of those people who froze like a rabbit in the headlights when the Coronavirus crisis unfolded. To be fair, I was dealing with the aftermath of prolonged flooding, with the barriers unable to hold back muddied waters. I did not want to hear any more bad news. Whilst I was distracted by the floods, bad news was brewing in China. No one noticed. They were more interested in the massive bushfires in Australia.  

Then, suddenly it dawned on us and that very same mother-of-all bad news is now here, just round the corner. And it is deadly serious. 

While the others were frantically buying loo paper, we were looking for hand sanitisers. There were none. They had vanished into thin air… I cursed myself. 

Why did I curse myself? Because in the past I did not think they were high priority items to buy. I thought they were a gimmick and viewed cynically their boastful claims that they can kill 99.9% of germs.

In my little head, that claim had always bemused me, left me wondering about the 0.1 % of germs that hand sanitiser can’t kill? 

“Social Distancing.” This phrase was unfamiliar to me just two weeks previously. These words crop up everywhere nowadays. It simply means keeping a distance of about two metres between you and others, meaning you have to speak a bit louder to each other too. 

In my little head, I was assuming wistfully that “Social Distancing” would protect 99.9% of people, just like the braggart claim of the hand sanitiser companies. 

But then I suddenly thought, what about 0.1 % of people that can’t be protected? The so-called 0.1% are the elderly and the vulnerable.  

It dawns on me with a deep, slow realisation that I am part of the 0.1%. 

Why? Simply because I am Deaf and Blind.  

Surely, Deaf and Blind people are made of strong stuff; they have the strength of an Ox! 

My lungs were weakened by the ravages of pneumonia a few years ago.  I am also asthmatic. The combination of these two conditions is not good news.  

Being Deaf is hard, being Blind is also hard. But being Deaf and Blind is much, much harder. 

Being Deaf, you can lipread. With Sign Language, you can sign to someone standing far away, as long you can manage to get hold of the person’s attention. 

Blind people can speak loudly in the direction they hear someone from. 

DeafBlind people can’t communicate from a distance. They have to be close to the other person. Their hands cling lightly and delicately on the other person’s hands, figuring out what the person is saying, by relying on the movements of the hand and the shapes of the fingers to form a sentence. 

I am not at that stage of communication just yet, but I will as my eyesight worsens. Right now I can’t see anyone or anything that’s more than a metre away. It feels desolately bleak.

Watching on the news and seeing people cramming into public transport leaves me shuddering and open-mouthed.  

People escaping to beautiful places like the Lake District, Peak District and even worse, the Highlands, and sadly up my street in Ironbridge, leaves me seething.  

The people travelling like this are simply spreading the virus around like some kind of “I can’t believe it’s not butter” spreadable margarine. The virus gleefully loves people’s stupidity and mindless selfishness. 

Surely, seeing thousands of people dying in Italy and Spain – hotspots for a British holiday – should impact people’s behaviour. The Italians and the Spaniards are pleading, crying, and disappearing in their own coffins.

It could easily be one of you. Easily. Really. 

In my little head, I thought to myself, “Are they Blind?! Are they Deaf?!” No, they are just ignorant.

I was amused by the so-called news presenters being filmed, trapped in their own beautiful houses and staring out of their windows looking all solemn and lonely. They describe wistfully how hard it is to be alone and have no one around to talk to during their own self isolation.  

In my little head, I was tutting at how pathetic they are. That is how DeafBlind normally live. They are totally cut off in their own head.

Communication is so rare and so fleeting. And there is a charge, a price to hire someone, to make ourselves more human. What can we do? We just live with this.  

In my little head, I tell them… “Grow a backbone, stay home, be sensible, and survive.’ 

That way, the 0.1% would live a little longer.

“Self isolation” and “Social Distancing” might protect 99.9% of the people, but it just makes 0.1% of them more vulnerable and isolated. 

 You can read all about Unlimited’s approach to the COVID-19 crisis here. We are also compiling resources and opportunities for disabled artists and creatives.