For many blind people, the most frustrating aspect of their experience is not rooted in their condition, but rather in the way they are treated. There are many misconceptions about blindness, and often they go unaddressed due to the discomfort many people experience when discussing the condition.
The best way people can support the blind community is by educating themselves about it and to fact-check the misconceptions associated with it, including the six myths listed here.
1. When a person is blind, other senses are heightened dramatically.
One of the most prominent misconceptions about blindness is the body compensates for the loss of vision by developing a heightened sense of hearing. To be clear, research such as this study, published in the January 2005 journal PLOS Biology, presents some evidence that new neural connections do form in the area of the brain controlling vision and are diverted to be put to work for the other senses. However, most people who are blind would explain their advanced hearing is more of a learned behavior requiring hard work and practice.
People who are blind tend to focus more on the sounds around them and experience fewer distractions when doing so. The need to rely on hearing and not vision to navigate daily life enables blind people to use sound in innovative ways so their sense of hearing appears to be notably better than those people who can see.
2. Speaking loudly to a blind person is helpful.
People with conditions socially perceived as disabilities often encounter well-meaning individuals who — sometimes without realizing — converse with them in voices louder than normal. This is a common experience for blind people in spite of the fact that many generally tend to also falsely associate blindness with acute hearing, as mentioned above.
Blind people are perfectly capable of hearing and understanding conversations conducted in a normal tone of voice. Blind people could be offended when others perceive a need to significantly raise their voice volume level in conversation.
3. Guide dogs navigate without input from their handlers.
When observing a guide dog, many people incorrectly assume these canines memorize routes to hundreds of locations and respond to an endless collection of commands to lead their human handlers to a desired destination without input.
In reality, the person handling the dog is doing the guiding, relying on the dog only to signal the presence of overhead obstacles, alert them to changes in elevation such as stairs and curbs and to navigate around objects in the handler’s path. In addition, guide dogs are unable to detect when a traffic light changes to cross the street. Handlers listen for traffic and crossing signals and tell the dog when to cross. At most, a dog will express “intelligent disobedience” at a crosswalk if the signal has alerted the handler of the time to cross but there are still cars approaching the intersection.
4. “Legally blind” means a person has no capacity for sight.
Generally speaking, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) deems individuals to be legally blind if they have a “reduced central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in [their] better eye with use of the best eyeglass lens to correct [their] sight.” This means some people who are legally blind can still make out some shapes, light or color. In total, there are approximately 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the United States.
5. Blindness severely limits independence.
People unfamiliar with the blind community often mistakenly believe most people living with the condition lead isolated, lonely and limited lives, but this is not true. There are many methods for people who are blind to engage in hobbies and daily tasks they enjoy.
Whether a person has been blind since birth, childhood or later in life due to a disease such as glaucoma or macular degeneration, there are important educational organizations and online resources to help them learn how to effectively navigate and thrive in a world built for people who can see.
There are a number of “talking” appliances, including everyday items such as calculators, timers and thermometers. Many corporations are currently developing better braille tablets, e-readers and scanners to make it easier for blind people to read using a computer screen or a piece paper. One of the best tools available to blind people today is the smartphone, for which tech firms have developed a number of applications for various purposes such as reading screens and effectively navigating in the outside environment.
6. Blind people can’t enjoy typical hobbies.
New technologies have even made it possible for blind people to enjoy pastimes such as reading, watching movies and playing sports. Audiobooks make it simple for a blind person to listen to literature. Movies can also be enjoyed through the use of narration services software. Different groups host leagues where blind people play baseball, swim, run, cycle, ski and rock climb, along with unique sports designed especially for the blind community such as goalball.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember about blind people is they want respect and to be treated like everyone else. If they need help, they know when to ask for it. The blind community is as unique and diverse as any other group of people looking to lead full lives.