COVID-19 pandemic and associated mitigation measures disproportionately impact those with vision loss

Rockville, Md.—A cross sectional study assessing the impact of the pandemic on adults with and without visual or hearing loss has shown that individuals with visual loss may face increased disruption of their daily activities stemming from the pandemic and related mitigation measures, including access to healthcare, transportation, and information. This study out of the University of Michigan Medical School is being presented this week at the virtual 2021 Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).

The survey-based study headed by Alec Bernard, BS, and Joshua Ehrlich, MD, MPH, included 112 adults with moderate or worse visual impairment (<20/60 in better-seeing eye), 108 with hearing loss (defined using ICD-10 codes), and 155 age/sex-matched controls recruited from the University of Michigan (UM) Health System. 80% of participants reported “a fair amount” or “a lot” of disruption to their daily lives as a result of the pandemic.

“Because people with sensory impairment already face unique challenges in our society, we wanted to assess if the current pandemic was having a disproportionate impact on this population,” Bernard says.

Findings among the visual loss (VL) group showed:

  • 18% reported “a lot” of difficulty or being “unable” to access routine medical care compared with 12% of the hearing loss (HL) group and 10% of control groups (C).
  • 62% had difficultly due to fear of exposure (54% HL, 45% C)
  • 38% said the person assessing was worried about exposure (6% HL, 7% C)
  • 12% cited decreased availability of public transportation (2% HL, 3% C)
  • 31% reported needing to rely more on family for assistance (7% HL, 13% C)

Among all participants, 30% reported difficulty accessing trusted information about the pandemic; 11% of those with VL found the information difficult to see or hear (1% HL, 2% C; p<.001).

“The research we have done has value only when shared with those who are in a position to make change. ARVO is a wonderful opportunity to disseminate our findings to a wide and relevant audience,” Bernard states. “We hope this research will be a first step toward data-driven policy and public health decisions for persons with sensory impairment during both the current pandemic, and in the future.”

  • Abstract title: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Mitigation Measures on Persons with Vision and Hearing Impairment
  • Presentation start/end time: Thursday, May 6, 2021 11:15am – 1pm ET
  • Presentation number: 3543763


The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world. Members include approximately 10,000 eye and vision researchers from over 75 countries. ARVO advances research worldwide into understanding the visual system and preventing, treating and curing its disorders. Learn more at

Media contact:

Erin Hering