How to Blast 5 More Myths About Being Blind

Mediaeval Elders of Chartres
Mediaeval Elders of Chartres. Harry Williamson/Spring Studio

Frightening tales have been told throughout human history in the form of folklore, legends and myths.

Unfortunately, these semi-true stories, which have been passed on through tradition and across cultures, are based on fear and have a negative impact on our society, especially for those who are living a normal life in spite of vision loss.

The old belief passed on through mythological tales that being blind meant people were either supernatural or subhuman is an outdated perception.

 The words of best-selling author, Rosemary Mahoney (from an article she wrote called Why Do We Fear the Blind?) could not be more true: “There is usually a perfectly healthy, active and normal human mind behind that pair of unseeing eyes.”

So let’s get down to busting some more myths, get rid of generalizations or assumptions and transform outdated misconceptions to enable comfortable interaction with people of all abilities.

#5: You Can’t Use Visual Language to a Blind Person

Oh yes you can. If you have to ask “How do I talk to a person who is blind?” be reassured. The answer is: as you would address anyone else.

People live in a visual world so naturally will say things like “Look out, watch your step, see that over there, can I show you…etc” and so, people who are blind are used to hearing visual terminology.

But when a person who is blind or has low vision enters the room, the air sometimes freezes with an awkward silence – what do you say now?

You act normally, of course. There is no need to adjust your language.

When sighted people can learn to see the humor in using words with visual connotations to those who can’t see, we are all able to lighten up and get on with our lives without being fearful of saying the ‘wrong’ thing.

#4: Blind People Can’t Give Sighted People Directions

This is an interesting myth because, for the majority of people, using eyesight is the main sensory way to be observant.

Therefore, the assumption is that not being able to see equates with not knowing where we are.

Not true. More than anyone, those who have low vision especially need to know where they are going in order to avoid major stress.

Often, a person with vision loss learns safe Orientation and Mobility training to develop certain techniques in moving independently through a chaotic environment.

Blind and visually-impaired people take time to plan the route, learn the safest way and commit to memory crucial points of reference in their neighborhood so they can reach their destination on time and with confidence.

If you happen to find you are giving a lift to a blind or visually-impaired passenger in your car, feel free to discuss options for the quickest route to your mutual destination.

In fact, asking for directions from a person with low vision is not only a smart thing to do but it also demonstrates that a sighted driver is open to trusting in the opinions of their blind navigator – now what a ride that would be!

#3: Being Blind Limits a Person’s Ability to Hear

Unless there is another diagnosis where a person is both deaf and blind, losing the ability to see does not weaken the sense of hearing.

Quite the opposite, in fact – it can heighten sensitivity to observe life through the other physical senses, such as hearing.

It is more a case of people wondering how they will be able to make themselves understood if they can’t use body language or give visual clues in order to communicate.

Speaking louder is not the solution when talking to a person who can’t see. The challenge is to use clear and precise language, not having to adjust the pitch or volume at which it is delivered.

#2: Blind People Can’t Live Independently

Why not? Having a disability of any kind makes a person seek other ways to adapt new skills to help  fulfill their independence.

This is true whether they choose to live on their own, share a household, or even take on a successful career.

A major challenge facing people with vision loss is convincing sighted people that they can make sensible decisions on their own. The most helpful thing to do is allow your friend or loved one who has low vision to feel normal in every way by not over-riding their decisions.

Their eyes may not work as well as yours but their brain certainly can…and does.

#1: What works best for one Blind Person works best for All

Whoops! This is an incorrect generalization. There may be similar ways in which we share commonalities like how to use a computer with software for the blind, learn the techniques in using a white cane or dog guide to enhance independence, organize our homes and work environments in specific ways but it all comes down to personal preferences.

As people, we are all individuals and what works best for one person with low vision doesn’t necessarily mean it will help the next person you meet with vision loss.

The main requirement is that sighted people be aware of treating everyone as people first, then address their so called ‘disability’ in whatever way is most helpful.

Author Rosemary Mahoney reminds us: “For those who can adapt to it, blindness becomes a path to an alternative and equally rich way of living”

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