MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – Only 1 of the 13 available COVID-19 tests approved by the FDA is accessible to the blind and visually impaired. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is working to change that.
Larry Povinelli, treasurer of the Greater Rocket City Chapter NFB of Alabama, says when it comes to using an at-home COVID-19 test, accessibility is important.
“It’s another example of how we can be independent. It’s important for anyone to be independent and having the device come to me accessible so that I can take my own test and I don’t have to involve somebody else, possibly get them exposed to the virus,” Povinelli said.
Cue Health’s test is the only FDA-approved at-home COVID test on the market that’s accessible. It uses an app and provides an audible test result. Unlike the tests the Biden Administration made available to Americans, this one comes with a price tag and a monthly subscription fee.
However, there are free solutions out there as well.
Aira is a visual interpreting service that works through a downloadable app. The NFB will pay for Aira’s services for at-home COVID testing through a joint program with the company that was launched last week.
“So, given where we are with COVID and what is going on I think this is a great example of a partnership of where together we are achieving more,” said Troy Otillio, Aira CEO.
Otillio says Aira can be used on all smartphones.
“You use your phone number to register. It’s pretty straightforward. This app has been designed to purposely support people who use voice-over screen readers, low vision, so it’s very easy to register. And then there’s just a bog fat call button and you would simply say I’m calling in because I need to take a COVID test. I understand there’s an NFB offer on this. The agent will confirm that very quickly and then you’re off and running,” he said.
Using the phone’s camera during the call, agents walk users through the at-home COVID-19 test from start to finish. Povinelli said while this is helpful it is only a band-aid for the real problem.
“The fact of the matter is manufacturers should be thinking about this day one, not after the fact,” he explained. “You need an app and a phone to do that. And I’m here to tell you that most blind people can’t even afford a phone. We want it to be practical which is that device should be coming to me accessible in my hand.”
Povinelli said the technology already exists to make COVID-19 tests accessible.
“I would like to see some audible something that would acknowledge what the result of the test is, I mean, that’s sort of obvious. In my hand, how are you going to let me know that it’s positive or negative? And it’s one or the other. So it’s a yes or no, a beep or two beeps.” Povinelli explained.
The National Federation of the Blind contacted the Biden Administration in January, asking the administration to work with the NFB to find a way to make these tests accessible. Povenelli said they have received a response.