Although today’s culture is moving towards a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive society, more positive change in regards to disability rights needs to occur. Advocacy and awareness are vital to changing societal attitudes and perceptions. Misconceptions of blindness are perpetuated today. This article sets out to dispel some of the common misconceptions of vision loss and educate the public.
As a person who is blind, over the years I have personally experienced a range of stereotypes related to vision loss in my daily life. I engage with people everyday as I run errands and navigate my community. I have been asked various questions and heard many comments about my disability or my guide dog. From my experience, many people are curious, and I may be the first person who is blind that they have met. Many people have also never met a guide dog team before. Most of the interactions I have with others are very positive. I do my best to display a positive philosophy of blindness through my words and actions with those I meet. I am an individual who is independent with an active lifestyle. Others seeing people who are blind living confident and independent lives will also raise awareness and help to change societal attitudes regarding vision loss. Although it can be exhausting at times to educate everyone I meet, I believe that in order for perceptions of blindness to change in a positive way, it is up to individuals who are blind and the blind community as a collective to exercise our voices and educate others about our abilities. Over the years, comments I have heard or questions from others regarding my visual impairment are: “You don’t look blind. Are you training that dog?”, “You always look so well put together. Every time I see you, your outfits and colours match”, and “Do you have a maid to come in and clean your house and make your bed everyday?”. These are just a few examples of people in the community unaware of the abilities of individuals living with a visual impairment. Below includes a list of the common misconceptions about blindness (false statements), followed by a statement that is true about blindness:
1) False: People who are blind can only see “darkness”.
True: 18% of people who are legally blind are considered to have total blindness. Most people who are legally blind have various levels of vision loss and most have light perception and are able to distinguish between light and dark (Iowa Department for the Blind, n.d., Myths About Blindness, para. 1).
2) False: People who are blind have special abilities or a “sixth sense”.
True: People who are blind do not have an innate ability to hear, touch, and smell more than people who are sighted. A person who is legally blind may be more aware of “information from their other senses” (Iowa Department for the Blind, n.d., Myths About Blindness, para. 1).
3) False: All people who are blind can read braille with proficiency, and all people who are blind work with a guide dog.
True: Approximately 10% of students in North America who are blind are learning to read braille (The Canadian Press, 2019). Only about 5% of people who are blind or visually impaired use a guide dog. The majority of individuals who are blind use a white cane for travel (The Chicago Lighthouse, n.d.).
4) False: People who are blind are unable to do most things that sighted people can do such as cook, clean, manage their finances, raise children, work, attend university, or play sports.
True: With the right training and opportunities, people who are blind can learn life skills and live productive and independent lives. Many people who are blind have children, attend university, hold down a job, and are active in sports and recreational activities (Iowa Department for the Blind, n.d.).
5) False: The notion some sighted people have when they meet a person who is blind: that they need to speak loudly in order for the person who is blind to hear and understand what they are saying.
True: Many people who are blind are not Deafblind. In fact it is not necessary to speak loudly when talking to a person who is blind or Deafblind (Everyday Sight, 2019).
6) False: A guide dog is like a taxi driver or GPS: the dog knows when to cross the street, where to go, and how to get to the intended destination.
True: A guide dog does not have the ability to know when it is safe to cross the street, nor can a guide dog read street signs. A guide dog can be trained to target objects like a bus stop or garbage can. They are trained to guide their handler from curb to curb (Guiding Eyes for the Blind, 2014). It is up to the handler to listen for a surge in traffic and judge when it is safe to cross the street. The handler directs the guide dog when it is safe to proceed into the crossing. It is also the responsibility of the handler to know their route and direct the dog along their route. A guide dog is trained to stop at curbs and changes in elevation and guide the handler around obstacles along the route (Guide Dogs for the Blind, n.d).
7) False: People who are blind are limited in terms of career opportunities.
True: People who are blind are able to work in many different fields with adequate support, skills, accommodation, and training in order to get the job done. There are people who are blind working in various professions such as human services, law, government, education, the arts, athletics, and much more (Everyday Sight, 2019).
8) False: People who are blind are unable to use technology.
True: Technology has come a long way and enables people who are blind to access information. Modern technology assists individuals to complete tasks such as reading, writing, surfing the internet, sending and receiving emails, managing personal banking and finances, and assisting when navigating the community. Technology can definitely enhance the life of a person who is blind at home, in the work place, in public, and when travelling (The Chicago Lighthouse, 2015). Today, when it comes to technology and accessibility, there are so many options and the opportunities are plentiful!
9) False: People who are blind do not dream.
True: People who are blind do dream. There is evidence to suggest that people who are blind have similar dreams to that of people who are sighted. Whether a person was always blind or lost their vision later in life, people who are blind can dream and their dreams do contain visual imagery (Health Line, n.d.).
Discussing misconceptions of blindness in an informative manner is vital for positive change. I believe that educating others is needed at both the micro and macro level in order for societal attitudes and perceptions to change. I encourage each one of us to engage in positive rhetoric, exercise our voice, and come together as a community to raise awareness and advocate for an inclusive, equitable, diverse society. A society that embraces people for who they are as individuals. A society that sees ability rather than disability.
Through projects like the Bowen Island Recreation, Training and Meeting Centre project, we want to work together with our students and campers to dispel the myths and misconceptions the general public has about people who are blind and Deafblind. By empowering Canadians who are blind and Deafblind to know what is possible and working with employers and community members to raise awareness about our abilities, we will help to build a better future for all Canadians who are blind and Deafblind.
But to do so, we need your help. If you can help us spread awareness of our fundraising efforts by sharing posts like this one or can make a donation, together we can make this dream a reality.
- Everyday Sight (2019). 10 Myths About Blindness, Retrieved April 3, 2021
- Guide Dogs for the Blind (n.d.). Guide Dog Training, Retrieved April 4, 2021
- Guiding Eyes for the Blind (2014). Misconceptions About Guide Dogs, Retrieved April 3, 2021
- Iowa Department for the Blind, Misconceptions, Retrieved March 31, 2021
- The Canadian Press (2019). Fewer People Learning Braille in North America, Retrieved March 31, 2021
- The Chicago Lighthouse (n.d.). How Do Guide Dogs Work? Retrieved April 1, 2021
- The Chicago Lighthouse (2015). How Does Technology Help People who are Blind or Visually Impaired? Retrieved April 3, 2021
- Health Line (n.d.). Yes, Blind People Dream, Retrieved April 4, 2021