I have wondered for quite a long time what the first article on this site should be about. What could be an interesting topic for a reader visiting this blog for the first time and unfamiliar with the topic of visual impairment? How to overcome the imaginary wall between the sighted and the blind? I think we should start with proving the most common myths about the blind and partially sighted wrong.
1. A person either sees everything or does not see at all
No, really not, visual impairment is a large spectrum where totally blind people form only a small part. There are hundreds of different reasons why people lose sight. Some people are already born that way, some people start losing their sight later in their lives. The causes of visual impairment are genetics, premature birth, other health problems or injuries. One thing is certain – each type of visual impairment is different. Different diseases have different degrees. Even two people with the same disease can be affected differently. Some people can see only at a distance, others only at close range. Someone has only the central vision and someone sees only peripherally. Some people are light sensitive and some cannot see in the dark, while others are color-blind. Someone reeds with the help of magnifier, someone in Braille or with a screen reader. Some people have enough vision to walk independently, someone needs their white cane to do so. Everything is just so individual. Therefore, if you meet someone with a visual impairment, don’t hesitate to ask for explanation of their eyesight.
2. white cane = blind
This statement is somewhat related to the previous point. Everyone seems to associate a blind person with a white cane. However, the fact that someone is using the cane doesn’t mean that this person cannot see at all. On the contrary, a lot of white cane users still have some vision. Moreover, there are various types of white canes, of which the identification cane and the long cane are the most common. The long cane is used for independent orientation on the street. By using it, the person can detect and avoid obstacles and follow guiding lines. The identification cane is rather used just to inform the surroundings that it’s owner has an issue with eyesight. There are also cases when you use the white cane just at night or when crossing the road. Unfortunately, some less informed people can accuse such users from pretending being blind after experiencing such a situation.
On the other hand, it can happen that you will notice a completely blind person without a white cane. This happens for example when he or she is accompanied by another person or when he or she has a guide dog.
3. The blind are not interested in the visual world
When a person has vision problems it does not mean that he or she lives completely cut off from other people and that he or she is not interested in anything “visual” – including books, TV, computer, social media to photography or art. In the past it used to be difficult, because most of the information were printed and there was no way to become familiar with them but as the time has progressed, new inventions and latest assistive technology have been more and more helping us to access visual information by other senses such as hearing or touch. Nowadays, there are hundreds of devices, programs and applications such as screen readers, braille displays, electronical magnifiers, apps to read printed texts, recognize colors, currency or light, to navigate the person or to describe their surroundings or people. It is even possible to access help from sighted volunteers via a free smartphone application. Most of visual content can be described, and that includes also the TV, or it can be made available as a tactile material
Blind people are not interested in their appearance
When a person is partially sighted or even totally blind, he or she doesn’t care what he looks like and what he is wearing. Yes, sometimes this unfortunately still happens, but in most cases, it is not true. In this respect, there is often a distinction between people who have already been born blind and those who have lost their sight later in life and between people who are completely blind and partially sighted. This is often seen, for example, in the perception of colors or patterns. How do completely blind people dress? Someone else is helping them to buy clothes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have their unique style. Moreover, these people are much neater, so they have an overview of where a particular shirt or pants are. Some even sort and label clothes according to styles or colors, so they have no problem finding the right piece. Something similar applies, for example, to hairstyle and makeup, but here the result is mainly influenced by sense and practice.
5. Avoiding “visual words?”
“See you tomorrow”, “Look what I have,” “Let’s see.?” Are you afraid of using these phrases in the presence of a blind person? You don’t have to be. Most blind and partially sighted people normally use them. But watch out for gestures and words like “over there,” or “this one.” Why? Try closing your eyes and answer it yourself 🙂
6. Blind = disabled and stupid
Originally, I did not even want to include this myth in this article. Nevertheless, I have already encountered such a claim. It rarely happens that a person with visual impairment suffers from various other forms of disability, including mental disorder, but the intelligence has nothing to do with how they see. Therefore, when you speak to a blind person, you do not need to speak slowly or clearly to him or treat him as a small child, or even ignore him and have a conversation only with his or her accompaniment.
7. The blind have absolute hearing and other “special” abilities.
When one loses sight, one must learn to rely more on other senses, in most cases hearing. However, this does not make them immediately absolute-eared piano virtuosos or serial superheroes that move like bats. Yes, it can happen if you work hard but not automatically. Moreover, even in this case, it is greatly influenced by whether a person is already born blind or not.
8. The visually impaired can become only masseurs or piano tuners
Getting a job with visual impairment is not really easy. But as with other people, it depends primarily on your skills, knowledge and education. In the past, it was not very common for someone with severe visual impairment to study at a university, today it is not a problem. That is why more and more blind and partially sighted people have an increasing knowledge in the fields of informatics, law, languages, psychology, pedagogy and many others. Whether they can find a job depends not only on their persistence and activity, but also on the willingness and experience of the employer. Many visually impaired people can also find work, for example, in call centers or organizations that help the visually impaired people. Of course, there are still some people who pursue those “more traditional” professions such as masseur, music teacher, musician, piano tuner or basket-maker
…or what about becoming a pilot?
One day at a busy airport, the passengers on a commercial airliner are seated, waiting for the cockpit crew to show up so they can get under way. The pilot and co-pilot finally appear in the rear of the plane, and begin walking up to the cockpit through the center aisle. Both appear to be blind. The pilot is using a white cane, bumping into passengers right and left as he stumbles down the aisle, and the co-pilot is using a guide dog. Both have their eyes covered with huge sunglasses. At first the passengers do not react; thinking that it must be some sort of practical joke. However, after a few minutes the engines start spooling up and the airplane starts moving down the runway. The passengers look at each other with some uneasiness, whispering among themselves and looking desperately to the stewardesses for reassurance. Then the airplane starts accelerating rapidly and people begin panicking. Some passengers are praying, and as the plane gets closer and closer to the end of the runway, the voices are becoming more and more hysterical. Finally, when the airplane has less than 20 feet of runway left, there is a sudden change in the pitch of the shouts as everyone screams at once, and at the very last moment the airplane lifts off and is airborne. Up in the cockpit, the co-pilot breathes a sigh of relief and turns to the Captain, “You know, one of these days the passengers aren’t going to scream and we’re gonna get killed!”
9. The blind are unable to live independently
There is a long way to the complete independence of the blind and visually impaired, but it can be managed. Everything requires hours and hours of practicing routes and orientation, cooking, self-service and other activities related to independent living. Someone still needs help from an assistant or family member from time to time in situations that cannot be prepared in advance and where one is not enough even with the latest compensation aids. These include, for example, visiting an office or a doctor, filling out forms, going to a large supermarket, choosing food in a restaurant, going to unknown places etc. But again, it depends a lot on the capabilities of the individual
10. Do the blind need help?
Yes and no, but it also depends on the kind of help. I will say one example of bad and one example of good help for all. There is a blind woman with a white cane walking and trying to cross the road. A passer-by comes towards her and grabs unexpectedly her arm, in which she holds her white cane. He leads her across the crossing and brings her directly to the bus stop where he leads her further directly to the bus without asking her. In the latter case, the blind woman is in the same situation. The passer-by comes and first of all asks her politely if she needs any help. She answers that it would be nice if he could lead her across the road. He offers her his arm so the blind can grasp it and leads her across the road. Than, she kindly ask him again if he could tell her the number of the buss. He answers immediately. So what do you think? Which one was the example of good and which one of the bad help?
If you know about any other myths, feel free to leave a comment with it.