Pop quiz!

blind person using a caneYou’re at a dinner party and your host introduces you to one of the other guests in attendance. The other guest is holding a white cane and wearing sunglasses so you come to the conclusion that they are blind. What do you do? A. Begin conversing with the other guest in a loud voice, to ensure that he can hear you. B. Ask your new acquaintance if he would like to feel your face so that he can know what you look like. C. Share a story that you recently read on Facebook about a blind person that regained their sight using home remedies, and offer to send your new acquaintance the link. D. Introduce yourself and begin a conversation in the same way that you normally do when you meet someone new. If you picked A, B, or C then this article is for you. Thanks to movies, television and other popular media (ie. a certain Lionel Richie music video) there are some strange ideas going around about what it means to be blind, much to the frustration of people who are actually blind. So we are here to set the record straight with a list of the ten most common misconceptions about blindness. 1. If someone can’t see you very well then they probably can’t hear you either – so you better shout. No one likes to be shouted at, even people with low vision. So unless you have a specific reason to think that the person you are speaking with has trouble with their hearing, use your indoor voice. Or, alternatively… 2. People who lose their vision are compensated with super sonic hearing and other enhanced abilities. Unfortunately being blind doesn’t convey any super powers. The truth is a bit less fanciful. Simply put, people who are blind or visually impaired are forced to rely on their other senses to absorb information and so they often develop a more heightened sense of smell, touch and taste. 3. Feeling someone’s face is a common technique that blind people use to “see” what someone looks like. If the idea of someone groping your face gives you the heebejeebees, that’s normal… because it’s weird. People who are blind follow the same social conventions as anyone else, which means that it is highly unlikely they will want to have their hands all over the face of someone they are not intimately acquainted with. In fact, according to many visually impaired people, feeling someone’s face does not actually provide very much helpful information about a person’s looks. There are exceptions of course, such as for close family members or romantic partners. Parents who are blind will use their hands to familiarize themselves with their children’s features and children may feel the faces of the significant people in their lives. 4. If you are speaking with someone who is blind or visually impaired you should avoid using words like “look” or “see,” so that you don’t offend them. Nope. No one cares. These words are frequently used as figures of speech by people of all vision ranges, including those who are blind. So telling your blind friend “I’ll see you later” is totally fine. 5. People that are blind have very limited job options. Richard Bernstein, a judge of the Michigan Supreme Court who has been blind since birth, can easily put this rumor to rest. So can Mike Callvo, the founder and CEO of Serotech, or Russell Shaffer, the Senior Manager of Corporate Affairs for Walmart, both of whom are blind. With the proper training and equipment people who are blind can be successfully employed in whatever industry they wish. Just look around and you will find visually impaired computer programmers, teachers, chefs, business owners, bartenders, marketers, social workers, photographers, actors, waiters…. There is even a blind race car driver! 6. People who are blind are unable to care for themselves or live independently. In the words of Russell Shaffer, “being blind doesn’t mean you can’t do things anymore, it simply means you need to learn how to do some things differently.” People who are blind are perfectly capable of caring for themselves, living on their own and even raising families. They may use special technology for reading or the assistance of a dog or cane to navigate and travel in order to compensate for their lack of vision. 7. Being blind means having absolutely no vision at all. Interesting fact- A majority of people that are classified as legally blind are not completely without vision. They may still have some peripheral vision, or just see everything as a big blur. And even people who can’t see anything at all are often able to distinguish shadows or differentiate between light and dark. 8. Only blind people use a white cane. There is a common fear among people with low vision of being judged harshly by others for using a white cane when they aren’t completely blind, as if they are “cheating.” As a result, people with visual impairments who could really benefit from the use of a cane will avoid using one, to the point of injury, because they worry about what others may think of them. So let’s get the facts straight. According to estimates made by the American Foundation for the Blind , only 18% of people who are visually impaired are fully blind. This means that most people who are blind can actually see to some extent, depending on their situation, but it’s still hard for them to get by without any assistance. That’s where the white cane comes in With the help of a white cane people with glaucoma or retinitis pigmentosa can identify objects in their peripheral vision to avoid running into them or tripping. People with cataracts or diabetic retinopathy can use a cane to detect objects in their path or navigate stairs. The lesson of this being- if you see someone walking with a white cane don’t jump to any conclusions about their level of vision, or get upset if they aren’t as blind as you assumed (yes, this does happen). 9. All people who are blind have guide dogs. Guide dogs are wonderful but they are not for everyone. Some people don’t want the responsibility of caring for a dog while others are simply not dog-people. Many guide dog owners also become frustrated by the net of invisibility that often comes along with owning a guide dog, when acquaintances are more interested in your dog than you. 10. All people that are blind are looking for a cure. While you may think that you are being helpful by constantly offering your visually impaired friend suggestions for curing her blindness, and sending her links to new fangled treatments, she might not appreciate it quite so much. Many people who are blind, especially if they have been without sight for a majority of their lives, are not looking for a cure, they just want to be treated with the same respect and dignity as their fully-sighted peers. Hopefully, these ten misconception-busting tips will be of help the next time you get introduced to someone that is blind. Though the best course of action is always just to treat them as you would anyone else. P.S. The answer is D.
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