Being blind during pandemic creates new challenges; Sumterite shares story, how she perseveres


COVID-19 has affected everyone's daily lives this year, and the blind and visually impaired are no different.

Most of the blind and sight-impaired normally live different lives from what people with sight might expect, according to Debra Canty, who is the Sumter chapter president of the National Federation of the Blind.

Many blind and visually impaired usually go to the movies, dine out, have social lives, are active in social and religious circles, participate in community functions and travel, Canty said.

Like for everybody else in the pandemic, those activities have been taken away.

The local chapter's monthly meet-and-greet fellowship at Shiloh-Randolph Manor assisted living facility - a highlight on the calendar generally - has now become a phone teleconference.

Canty said the toughest part for the blind in COVID-19 has been "living in solitude."

"It's hard enough to be in total darkness every day and all day, and now we lack a social life," she said. "Before, we were able to get out and socialize and do other things.

"Even if it was just taking a walk at Swan Lake or going to the movies or dining out at a nice restaurant."

Similar to everyone else, it also has been harder to visit with loved ones and family, she said.

As second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind in South Carolina, Canty usually attends the state and national conventions annually, but both were canceled for 2020.

Grounded in her strong faith in God, she stays active in ways that she can, such as at her church, Trinity Missionary Baptist, and on the phone with local chapter members.

Because they can't meet monthly, she tries to call many of them once every two weeks, sometimes more.

"As a leader, I try to ensure our members are actively involved," Canty said.

The Sumter chapter's volunteers are always helpful and continue to be during the pandemic, she added, with running errands, taking members to doctors' appointments and picking up essential items, such as a white cane, magnifier or a talking watch.

Canty answers all her phone calls, operates a desktop computer and sends emails regularly.

She credits a computer screen reader program that allows blind and visually impaired users to read the screen either with a text-to-speech output or by a Braille display with "opening up my world to communicate" with others.

One of her slogans in raising blind awareness is "we can do, but we do it differently."

Blind since 1999 because of optic neuritis, she became the Sumter chapter president in less than a year after joining the group.

The story goes, she said, the chapter needed a president, and the state president attended a local meeting.

"He said he saw potential in me and encouraged me to be the president," Canty said.

Her faith is the No. 1 thing that has gotten her through blindness, she said.

"That is when I realized that God had a plan for my life," Canty said, "and it was to encourage other blind people. God also said to me, 'Whatever I assign to you, I will equip you for it,' and I was so thankful for that.

"This work is not hard for me because God chose me to do this. So, it's not a task. It gives me joy. I enjoy what I do, and I say, 'I don't even want my sight back because if I did, I couldn't give the same message.'"


Canty said the Sumter chapter of the National Federation of the Blind will have its annual fundraiser Christmas Gala on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Because of the pandemic, it will be a virtual Zoom meeting this year.

One of the purposes of the gala is to raise blind awareness, she said. Canty facilitates the annual gala, and the keynote speaker will be Ever Lee Hairston, a member of the national federation's Board of Directors. Hairston is also a member of the California affiliate.

Zoom info call-in number 1-929-205-6099, ID is 8032543777.

Anyone is welcome to attend, Canty said, and donations are welcome. For more information on the gala, contact Canty at (803) 775-5792.