Ten Myths About Blindness and Sight Loss

It’s no secret:  I’m low vision.  I have 20/80 vision caused by traumatic brain injury following a car accident at the age of 13.

 

For the most part, my sight loss is more inconvenient than anything.  As long as you are not asking me to go UP or DOWN, generally my white cane and simple knowledge of my surroundings is enough for me.  The tools I possess — like a talking alarm clock (which speaks British, not American) and a digital magnifer that both enlarges text and changes the color scheme so I can read more easily — generally take care of most of my day to day challenges.

 

For me, the real danger is mostly in the assumptions other people make about my sight issues — grabbing my body instead of giving me verbal instructions to help me navigate the narrow and distorted visual world I live in.  Here are my top ten myths about sight loss.

 

Ten Myths About Blindness and Sight Loss

Top Ten Incorrect Assumptions About Blindness and Sight Loss

December 19th, 2012

Walking down the street when you are legally low vision can be a dangerous proposition. It’s not traffic. It’s not the obstacles in your path. I can hear traffic and navigate that effectively. I can feel the obstacles with my white cane. The biggest danger to most blind and visually impaired people is…other people!

People mean well when they grab a part of my body or try to “help” me. But this “help” typically is both the wrong sort of help and “help” that undermines the skills I’ve learned for safe management of my life.

People’s wrong conduct with the blind stems from fundamental stereotypes and assumptions made about the blind and visually impaired. Here are ten stereotypes I encounter in my everyday life:

Myth 1: Blindness means I see absolutely nothing

Myth 2: All blind people see/don’t see the same things

Myth 3: Blindness means I’m deaf too

Myth 4: Sight loss means I’m helpless

Myth 5: Sight loss is always a problem with the eyes

Myth 6: Sight loss means I cannot work

Myth 7: Sight loss means I cannot live independently

Myth 8: All sight loss is addressed the same way

Myth 9: Blind and low vision people depend on the government for their income

Myth 10: Blind and low vision people are inferior to sighted people

Here’s the reality check: blind and visually impaired people are barely different from you. In nearly all cases, we see SOMETHING – it’s just not 20/20 vision. Blindness can be caused by any number of hundreds of different issues. From defects in the cornea to deterioration of some part of the retina or optic nerve to visual processing issues in the brain, every individual is different and experiences sight differently. This doesn’t make anyone helpless or dependent. If anything, the most independent people you can ever meet are considered blind/visually impaired. Instead, we are differently abled, taking on the same tasks as other people, but going about it in a different way – like using a talking clock, a white cane, or adjusted computer settings. This makes blind and visually impaired persons more creative in solving life’s problems – and therefore better problem solvers at their jobs than sighted people. In some cases, the impairment provides an advantage to the impaired person – the way it does for me with photography. I am actually a BETTER PHOTOGRAPHER after the car accident took away my peripheral vision than I was before the accident. Why? Because I now naturally see almost exactly what the camera sees – without distractions or extra data flooding my mind.

Every visually impaired person addresses life differently. What works for one person won’t work for another, even when those individuals possess the same type of deficit (such as open angle glaucoma).

It’s also incorrect to assume that the disability correlates with receiving government financial assistance. Congress defines legal blindness for the purposes of SSI and SSDI in a very narrow and specific way that often doesn’t match up with a given individual’s type of sight loss. In other words, you easily can be functionally blind and possess less than 5% of your eyesight and yet not fall under SSI and SSDI’s definitions of blindness. For this reason, many states offer vocational training to the visually impaired with the express purposes of bringing blind and visually impaired persons into the work force.

Lastly, it is critical to understand that sight loss is not something to be looked down upon or pitied. Sight loss doesn’t make anyone less of a person or under some form of divine judgment. I am not less educated, not less intelligent, and not less capable of managing my life just because I don’t see as well as you do. You do not need to stare at me and should never assume I want or need help. If I want help or need it in some way, I will ask for it.

These myths make life harder for visually impaired and blind individuals. But with your help in spreading the truth about what it means to be blind, you can make life a little easier and better for all of us!

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