Myths About Blindness

I have listed a number of Myths that are encountered by blind people. I found several of them listed on the website:

Please go there for a lot of great information on sight loss. I have paraphrased the myths from this article and added my own experiences and situations to make it personal. I am often asked questions about what it is like to be blind. It is always surprising that people know nearly nothing about blindness and what they think they know is usually not ture. A Myth!

I lost my sight two years ago, very suddenly and without warning. I immediately encountered friends who offered insight into what they knew (or did not know) about blindness. They were quite innocent but their remarks were rediculous for the most part.

One family member told me I could begin to play the piano. Another colleague told me in great detail about the blind man who goes to her church and sings in the choir and plays the organ. These things might not be so absurd if I had formerly been a musician or singer, No, I was a
visual artist, author, and tenured professor of Fine Arts and Humanities at the time I lost my sight.

Some “friends,”colleagues,” and “family members” ignored my sight loss and never called me in the past two years. While it was a disappointment it was enlightening for me to realize that people I had formerly been close with were just not the people I had believed they were. Fortunately, most others came through and I now know my real friends. They have lifted me up and encouraged me and I truly appreciate them so much.

Below are some MYTHs and FACTs about sight loss..

Myth: Blind people use long white canes to let other people know they are blind.

Fact: The long white cane gives the blind person information about the path on which she is walking. It is like a pair of hands that feel the pathway. It gives very good information such as if the path has stones on it, if the path has a hole in it, if the path has steps on it, etc. The cane is white and red, and is made with reflective materials that shine in the dark so that the blind person is more visible. The cane enables me to walk alongside a sighted person and carry a conversation as any other person would do. I do not have to rely on the sighted person to guide me along the way as we walk. As I walk and talk, I am feeling the pathway at the same time.

The cane helps me to cross roads, and gives me visability to traffic.
The cane announces to sighted p0eople that I might need some consideration, and that I cannot see them. They will normally step aside as I pass them, if they realize I cannot see them and would bump into them without the cane.

The cane is an amazing travel companion. Mine is a folding cane so I can fold it up and put it on my seat after boarding a bus and this way it does not interfere with anyone else passing by. When, I reach my destination I just unfold it and go on my way. I enjoy being a cane traveler. I worked hard to learn how to use it and I have worked hard to know how to do many things that sighted people take for granted. I am proud of my skills.

Myth: When you lose your sight, or when you’re blind, all of your other senses are heightened.

FACT: A common misperception is that when someone loses their sight, or for that matter any of their other senses, their other senses become more sensitive. This is not true. In actuality, when one is deprived of a sense, a person will learn to use their remaining faculties more efficiently. Other senses do not become stronger. You learn to obtain information through them that you would have obtained through the sense you lost.

I listen more intently now, and I smell more acutely, and I pay attention to the clues that my senses give to me. But, I do it consciously and with determination.

For example, with sight you could look at someone’s face and know immediately when the person is smiling. If you are blind you’d have to listen to that person’s voice inflection to be able to know the other person is smiling. Smiling and happy peeople SOUNDS like they are smiling and happy.

Myth: Blind people need to touch someone’s face to determine someone’s appearance.

FACT: Most blind people do NOT prefer not to touch or feel another person’s face to tell what that person looks like. Two reasons for this are:
1.) Touching someone’s face can be considered very intimate or personal
2.) Most blind people may feel uncomfortable with touching another person’s face.

As well, in order to get a good impression of what another person looks like through touch, one would have to feel that person’s face for at least several minutes, and even then would only have a slightly better idea of what that person looks like. You would be able to tell some features, for example, the shape of someone’s nose, but you’d only have a vague general idea of that person’s appearance. Touching a face does not enable a blind person to pick up on things such as skin colour, eye colour, exact shape of the face etc. If you would like a blind person to know what you look like, the best suggestion is to just describe yourself to them.

I have a very clear sense of visual memory, so I do not need to touch anything to know what it looks like if it is described to me by a person who givem me good details. I would not think of reaching out to put my hands on anyone’s face. I enjoy the verbal sescription, and I have a good imagination, so I can “see” for myself, with a good description.

Myth: All blind people wear sunglasses.

FACT: Most blind people do not wear sunglasses.
A common misperception is that many visually impaired people wear sunglasses to keep their eyes, which may be deformed, hidden. In actuality, many who do wear sunglasses wear them because they have some light perception, and bright light, or the glare off an object can be kind of annoying, or distracting. In some cases light is very painful to the blind person. The dark glasses block out the painful light.

I wear very dark glass es when it is bright outside. I wear yellow glasses in a room lighted by florescent lights as they cause me to have a lot of eye pain and fatigue. On dreary days, I wear light gray glasses, to cut any glare and to even the light out for me. I normally have three pairs of glasses in my handbag, so I am ready for whatever the light conditions are during the day.

Myth: All blind people are born blind.

FACT: This is a common belief. The large majority of visual impairments occur later in life, particularly in an individual’s senior years.

Most of the blind people I know became blind due to systemic diseases such as Glaucoma, Diabetes, and cornea problems. Others have lost their sight later in life due to strokes, and other problems caused in the aging process.

Myth: Blind people’s eyes are deformed or strange looking. or: Blind people are born without eyes.

FACT: Most blind people’s eyes are actually “normal” in appearance. A common myth is that blindness results from either a deformation of the eyes, or no eyes at all.

Most disorders causing blindness can leave the eyes perfectly normal in appearance and healthy. Such disorders include things like bone diseases, Optic Neuropathy and other never disorders.

You cannot tell by looking at me that I cannot see. My eyes are bright and clear, and they appear to focus on your face as I talk with you. I do NOT see your face, however. You would have to watch me for quite awhile in order to figure out that I cannot see very well, or at all.

Myth: Most blind people are great musicians.

FACT: Because of famous blind musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Ronnie Milsap, and Andrea Bocelli, there is a stereotype that blind people are very talented when it comes to music. Studies have shown, percentage wise, blind people are as musically talented as sighted people. Becoming blind will not enable the person to suddenly know how to play an instrucment, or to sing with perfect pitch. There is no magic that comes with the condition of being blind.

Iam a VISUAL ARTIST, so even though I have lost my sight I am STILL a Visual Artist. I just had to adapt to my blindness and find other ways to express art. I have chosen to do it through pottery, and knitting, and making jewelry. Before, i did it through painting and printmaking. We learn to adapt and use other methods to express our creativity. But, for me, it is VISUAL, not musical since I never was a musiciant to start with.

Myth: Blind people do not enjoy TV or movies.
FACT: Blind people do in fact enjoy TV or movies as much as sighted people. The only difference is a blind person cannot see what is happening on the screen. the blind person has to determine action and imagery based on the various sound effects, and what the actors are saying. For example, if you hear a large crowd of people talking in the background, and the clinking of cutlery and plates, you can assume the characters on the screen are currently in a restaurant. Or, if one of the characters says something like, “I really like this new straw hat,” you can assume that that particular person is wearing a straw hat.
Occasionally, a blind person will miss something that happens, and may need to ask a sighted person, but typically a blind person can figure out 90 percent of what is happening on the screen.

Personally, I do not enjoy movies. But I had always preferred a live play so I still do prefer to “see” a play rather than watch a TV or a movie. It is my personal preference.

Myth: When you’re blind, all you can see is blackness, or darkness.

FACT: People who are completely blind do not actually see blackness, or darkness. They really see nothing at all. It’s rather hard to explain, unless you’ve actually experienced it yourself. The best way to put it would be, seeing blackness or darkness would be seeing something wouldn’t it? So to be completely blind would mean that you can’t even see that. Blackness and Darkness are something. Blind people see the absence of things, which is nothing.
It is hard to imagine what NOTHING looks like. But, try asking us about it and we’ll be glad to have a discussion about what we see.

Myth: Blind people count their footsteps to get around.

FACT: Counting one’s footsteps to get around any given environment can actually be a dangerous technique to navigating without sight. Blind people never count steps. The main reason for this is because you can’t assume each footstep you take will be the exact same length as the ones before and after it, and that you will start from the exact same spot when you start walking somewhere. The danger lies in the fact that some environments may have ledges, staircases open spaces etc. A sighted person, if not careful, could fall and get hurt, the same as a blind person counting their footsteps.
A blind person uses a white cane, sighted guide, or guide dogs as the preferred way of getting around. Also, a blind person can use the sense of touch to get around. Many people associate sense of feeling or touch as just being through the hands or fingers, but a blind person can use the whole body to feel the direction and the sound of the space in the environment. The best example of this would be using one’s feet to test the ground. If you are walking through a room with broken glass on the floor for example, you can feel a head with your foot, and if you feel glass underfoot before putting your foot down you can move it back, and feel for another, safer place to step.

Myth: Blindness is contagious
Blindness is not somehting that can be passed on like a germ or bacteria.
Nobody catches blindness form a blind person. Often a sighted person avoids the presence of a blind person as though the blind person is carrying a disease. This is due to the ignorance and insensitivity of the sighted person. Often times the blind person is completely ignored or avoided when at a public gathering or with family. I have had people skirt around me to avoid contact or engagement in conversation. Tyhpically, it is the blind person who has to take steps to be sure to be included in the conversation or group, instead of the other way around because of blind phobias of sighted people. While we may not see someone, we are very aware of their presence and it is offensive for that person to never even greet us or acknowledge that we are there.

Since losing our sight also gives us loss of friends, family, and colleagues, we often say that they must think our condition is contageous. Most of the blind people I have met have suffered losses of friends, family, and colleagues following their loss of sight.

Do you wonder what to talk about with a blind person? Try talking about life in general and things you love just like to always did before. We are not so interested in talking about blindness all the time, and it is tiring. We are still the same people we were before sight loss. We still have passions, hobbies, interests and things we enjoy discussing with with friends. Just be a friend, and don’t worrry about what to say. I just enjoy talking with friends so don’t even think about what to say. Just don’t keep asking, “What do you see?”

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