Physical Disabilities: Blindness & Visual Impairment
Alt text: Image showing a pair of black eye test glasses on top of an eye chart which is blurred out as the background.
July is Disability Pride Month and it's the time for you to learn about physical disabilities. First up is blindness and visual impairment.
Definition and Introduction:
Blindness, visual impairment or low vision happens when an individual has partial or no sight. Many people disagree over what is constituted as “blindness”, “visual impairment” or “low vision”. However, if you’re considered “legally blind”, you would have a central visual acuity (our visual field) that is 20 degrees or less in your better eye.
USA’s National Federation of the Blind encourages all people who need to use alternative methods of engaging in daily activities to identify as blind.
People in the community identify as blind people, visually impaired people or people with low vision. People who are both blind and d/Deaf label themselves as Deafblind people.
Blind/visually impaired people need alternative forms of communication or engaging in daily activities. They also need accessibility and accommodations.
2% to 8% of blind/visually impaired people use white canes to move around. 2% of blind/visually impaired people use guide dogs. A smaller proportion echolocates to move around. The rest of the community rely on their own vision or a sighted guide.
To access the internet, some blind/visually impaired people require screen readers and text-to-speech software.
According to 2016 statistics, more than half of blind/visually impaired people only have a high school diploma or lower educational attainment.
Over 70% of blind/visually impaired people are not employed full-time.
Notable People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Ways to Assist or Accommodate
Ensure aids such as Braille, audio assistance and high-contrast signs are present.
When guiding a blind/visually impaired person, use language to direct and describe their surroundings. Do not relocate objects without notifying them first.
Even if pets are not allowed at a certain place, guide dogs should be allowed and accommodated.
Do not touch a guide dog without the owner’s permission, or when it is carrying out its work. You could also treat it with a water bowl.
If you see blind/visually impaired people who may need help, approach them and ask whether they need assistance. Don’t be offended or hurt if they turn it down.
Talk to a blind/visually impaired person directly, and not their companion. Talking down or ignoring them is rude.
Tell a blind/visually impaired person you are walking away from before you actually do so. (Or they’ll just be talking to thin air.)
Fact vs. Myth
Myth: Blind/visually impaired people only see darkness. Fact: Only 2% of blind/visually impaired people experience total blindness. There is a spectrum of blindness/visual impairment, and different people are able to see different things. Vision may be blurry, lacking colour or within a limited radius. However, it is possible for most blind/visually impaired people to at least see something.
Myth: All blind/visually impaired people need white canes, guide dogs and read Braille. Fact: Blindness is a spectrum, so every individual will experience different degrees of blindness/visual impairment. Some people will have enough vision that they do not need to rely on these accommodations. Others may not want to take on the big responsibility of having a guide dog, for example.
Myth: Guide dogs that help blind/visually impaired people are the only service dogs out there. Fact: Just because someone needs a service dog, does not mean they’re blind! Service dogs play different roles, such as monitoring glucose levels in people with diabetes, acting as sensory dogs for autistic people and more.
Myth: Blind/visually impaired people wear sunglasses, so that’s the best way to tell if someone’s blind. Fact: Not all blind/visually impaired people wear sunglasses. Some may wear them because of light sensitivity or because other people may think their eyes are “scary”.
Myth: Most blind/visually impaired people are disabled because of an accident. Fact: The majority of people become blind/visually impaired because of genetic factors, disease or cataracts.
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