The top ten misconceptions about visual impairment

Guest post from  Emily Davison, a writer, fashion blogger, English Literature student  and YouTuber. She also happens to be visually impaired and works with a guide dog.

Emily with her guide dog Unity
Emily with Unity (photo from Guide Dogs)

Do you ever face those moments in your day where something cringe-worthy happens to you? Do you find yourself thinking how wonderful it would be if the ground would swallow you up?

In life I find that there have been many obstacles that I have had to face. But, one thing that never seems to vanish are the questions I get due to my disability. Some of them are the most awkward and frustrating moments I can recollect. Some make me want to recoil in sheer mortification.

Recently I created a video on my YouTube channel after reading an article by a young women in a wheelchair about the top ten sayings and questions that she gets due to her disability. It inspired me to relate my own version about visually impairments. Scope invited me to discuss my views on these misconceptions right here on the Scope blog.

1. “Won’t glasses help?”

I get this a lot when first meeting people and after what seems to be an eternal age of hearing it, I feel that it is time to set the record straight:

I am not a martyr. If I can improve my life in any way – I do.

But, alas the problem lies not in the eye but in the optic nerve and for me, as with many people with sight loss, glasses do not help. In short, if glasses did help me I would certainly be wearing them.

2. “Are you training that guide dog?”

There seems to be a misconception surrounding guide dog owners and the way that they mobilise in society.

Having switched from using a long cane to a guide dog, my walking speed and posture has changed an awful lot and I now walk in a confident manner and with purpose.  If a person with a guide dog walks confidently and ‘not like the stereotypical blind person’ this does not mean they must be a guide dog trainer!

3. “How long have you been blind?”

One of the biggest stereotypes around sight loss is that everyone who uses a long cane or a guide dog must have no vision whatsoever. One person with a guide dog may be fully blind, another may have some remaining vision like myself. I would always advise that when you discuss the topic of sight loss with a guide dog owner or long cane user that you use the term ‘visually impaired’ as it a more accurate representation of sight loss.

4. “You’re so normal!”

This comment, in my opinion, appears to imply that people with sight loss or other disabilities are less than ‘normal’.

Everyone is different. There is no such thing as a normal person. Disability is one small part of a person and should not be used to classify their place society.

5. “But you’re looking straight at me?”

Different individuals have different levels of vision, one person may be able to read print, whilst another may be able to see color. Some people with sight loss may be able to give you eye contact, or at least use their hearing to look in the direction of where your voice is coming from. Never presume that sight loss is all in black and white, because there are many different shades in the spectrum!

6. “She’s blind! I’ve got a chance to pull her!”

This is one of the more uncouth sayings I get in social situations such as the pub or a restaurant.

Some people think that my sight loss will increase their chances to ‘pull’. In the past this has shattered my confidence and made me recoil from dating situations. My sight loss should not be used as an advantage for other people to exploit.  Disability as a whole is something that is misunderstood when it comes to dating situations and that is why I praise Scope for including dating as a key aspect of their End The Awkward campaign.

7. “I don’t know how you do it!”

As a writer, my thesis on life is to experience as much of the world and people within it as possible. Meet new people, experience different cultures and live for every second. Time affects us all, disabled people included, and I believe that it is imperative to design your life in the way you wish and to gain autonomy over yourself. The comment of ‘I don’t know how you do it’ suggests that every disabled person is an isolated person afraid to live their life.

Never let any part of yourself hold you back, you are in charge of your disability, it is not in charge of you.

8. “You’re so trendy! You don’t look blind!”

I am still shocked by the amount of people who pass this comment with a look of incredulity on their face about how my dress sense amazes them.

Having sight loss does not have to affect a person’s relationship to fashion or style. Style is a form of expression and it depends on passion and imagination and not on your level of vision. As a visually impaired person I appreciate clothes from the fabrics and embroidery used, to the outline of the garment and how it makes me feel when I wear it. I interact with style based on a number of different senses. There are many different visually impaired people, who appreciate clothes for their shape, quality and attention to detail.

After all, fashion is a creative outlet and is not exclusive to one set of individuals.

9. “How does your guide dog know the bus numbers?”

Whenever I hear this comment I want to laugh until my sides are sore. Instead, I simply bite down hard on my tongue to keep in in place and politely inform the individual that a guide dog can only do certain things. Guide dogs do not have the power to talk or read, they follow instructions from the owner and help them to mobilise and get on and off public transport. The owner has to have full knowledge of the route they intend to take and the dog will act as the car.

10. “She’s so pretty! It’s such a shame she’s disabled!”

This is occasionally followed by the slightly more mumbled comment of “what a waste”. When I hear this my tongue takes on a life of its own and sets the world to right! My appearance is not ruined by the fact that my eyes do not work in the same manner as the majority.

I speak to everyone who reads this and considers themselves disabled. Your disability is not a shame and as so long as you are happy in the skin you are in, never allow anyone to convince you that it is!

You can read more on my thoughts and opinions on the topic of disability, style and identity by following me on the links below. Everyone is welcome on my social campaign to rid the world of its misconceptions of not just sight loss but disability in general. Come and join me, have your say and let’s make a change for good!

I also appear on RNIB’s Insight radio at 2.15 pm every Friday.