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.

13 thoughts on “The top ten misconceptions about visual impairment”

  1. Emily, I loved your article I’m visually impaired as well (I have a little vision left). I’ve heard some of the comments you mentioned and a bunch of others that are totally stupid. Thanks for a great article.

    1. Hiya! Thank you so much for your comment on my article! I really wanted this article to illustrate some of the key sayings that people with sight loss get so I am pleased to hear that my article shows a true representation of an aspect of sight loss!:) Lets hope my article goes some small way to breaking down these barriers

  2. I love this article! I have an artificial eye and limited vision in the other, however I am almost “fixed” with glasses-so I often get asked, “why don’t you try contacts? Oh wait then your false eye will be so obvious…”. I think the best thing I’ve ever seen is my boss wearing an eye patch in the office, me walking in and she admitting she wanted to see how I manage my work….I didn’t quite know whether to laugh, be insulted, be embarrassed….
    I think you are completely right on not letting disability define you and being happy in your own skin, keep encouraging people because it has taken me a long time to accept my disability but not let it be my only “trademark”. I’m still described by some as “the one who’s half blind” it’s difficult to believe I can be a normal human being.

    1. Hello Lexa
      Many thanks for your lovely comments about my article and for sharing some of your own experiences. I think it is really shocking how some employers ask things like ‘how do you go for your lunch?’ or ‘how do you do a spreadsheet?’ The same as anyone else but by using a different method to achieve the same result.
      I truly believe that society has been hypodermically force fed these notions towards disability and I think the only way that they will go gotten rid of is by education, campaigning and by people going out into the world to live their dreams and have a great life. I used to get called ‘half bind’ in primary and secondary school and was even referred to as the ‘cyclopes’ at some points. It is very hard sometimes to hear these comments. But, the best piece of advice i can give you is to just think to yourself that the people who say these things are too ignorant to look past disability and in many ways you are more superior to them for using your brain and looking past what the external world puts in front of us.
      Live life and achieve your dreams!:)

  3. Fantastic Emily!! I’m seriously VI (RP) and have a beautiful Guide Dog called Thomas. Being a big strapping lad with a small amount of remaining vision I can heartily agree with every point on your list, especially the “training” one, the number of times I hear people tell their children “that man is training the dog”!. Being VI doesn’t define us or what we do, we are individuals in our own right! NB. To anyone reading this with full vision and who knows me…I’m not ignoring you when you raise your hand to shake mine, I just haven’t seen it…..

    1. I would feel privileged to reach for your hand Pete. I believe Thomas would understand who your friends are. Most dogs are not as stupid or so judgemental as many of those in our species.

    2. Hi Pete! Thank you for your lovely comment on my article and for sharing your stories on the whole ‘training’ thing. i get it on a daily basis and to me its more funny than annoying these days. I think that anyone can be confident regardless of having a disability and it is all about the right attitude. But, in time I imagine that the children who believe us to be in training will start to realise that disability is one small part of a person:) A little confidence goes a long, long way:) And yes in solidarity to what Pete has said if I ignore your handshake (or your wave) it is because i too haven’t seen it:)

  4. Hi Emily, great to receive a reply from you, just thought you should know that ! You maybe one of the new disability enablement pioneers in 2014.

  5. Can I point out that the article was very hard to see due to being on a dark grey background. Also the links in purple are very difficult to see to click on. Would suggest different colouring would be more appropriate for someone with visual impairment.

    1. Hi Linda – we’re sorry to hear that you’ve found the article hard to see. We’ve tried to use colours that make our content easy to read, but we know that some people have trouble reading text on certain colours. It’s really helpful to have feedback and we’ll speak to our agency who support us with accessibility to get some advice.

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