Emma Bennison has found new ways to remain connected during the coronavirus lockdown.
- Digital social events are being run to help blind and vision impaired people stay connected
- Dion Galea warns that communicating online isn't easy for everyone
- Those living in rural areas have benefited from the digital events
The 44-year-old is the CEO of Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) and has a vision impairment.
"Some people who are blind and vision impaired are often isolated anyway but we could tell from the calls and emails we were receiving that because of the coronavirus situation people were feeling even more isolated," she said.
"We really wanted to do something to bring people together."
BCA has started running online social events to keep people connected during the pandemic, holding weekly happy hours and trivia nights.
"We have realised that beyond this pandemic people who are blind or vision impaired really do need that connection," she said.
"Because this is very much based around people connecting on their phone or on whatever technology they have at their disposal."
Ms Bennison is confident the online events will continue long after the pandemic is over.
"People are really appreciating the events, they're making new friends and meeting new people and it's just really exciting so we will definitely keep them going."
BCA is just one of many organisations around Australia holding digital social events.
The Community Disability Alliance Hunter (CDAH) based in regional NSW has moved its regular catch-up meetings from the pub to the virtual world.
Executive Officer David Belcher said it was vital people who lived with disabilities engaged with their community and each other.
"We made the decision very early on in the peace that even though we couldn't have meetings face-to-face we still needed to keep our catch ups going."
Those living with disabilities in rural communities have felt the greatest benefit of all, Mr Belcher said.
"Lots of our events were always in Newcastle and the Lake Macquarie area so this new style and this new world we're in has definitely increased participation from people further up the Hunter Valley," he said.
"Those people have been able to phone in or meet up online for the first time so it's been great to be able to help those people feel connected."
But Dion Galea, who is deaf and teaches Auslan, said communicating online wasn't easy for everyone.
"If we look at deaf seniors or people who might be deafblind that have had very restricted access to technology to date, we've really needed to assist them to get in to using technology," he said.
"Where there's a lot of discussion happening, it can be quite difficult to actually follow conversations on the screen because you have to look all over the place and establish who's actually speaking."
Mr Galea was also concerned poor internet connections were preventing people living with disabilities from communicating effectively online.
"I hope in the future that technology will improve so we'll see better internet speeds and better bandwidth," he said.
"That way communication online can be streamlined without the lag, without the barriers and challenges that we experience with communication."