What do blind people see?

2021-05-01 | By Justin Lubomirsky

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Understanding Vision Loss: Exploring What Blind People Actually See

Understanding Vision: Do Blind People See Black?

When we consider the experiences of blind individuals, a common question arises: "Do blind people see black?" This inquiry delves into the complex nature of blindness and the varied experiences of those who live with it. Contrary to popular belief, blindness does not necessarily equate to seeing complete darkness or blackness. The perception of sight in blind individuals varies greatly, depending on the cause and nature of their vision impairment. Some may experience total darkness, while others perceive light, shapes, or even colors to varying extents. In this article, we'll explore the diverse visual experiences of blind people, shedding light on this often misunderstood aspect of blindness.

What do blind people see?

More than 250million people in the world are blind or visually impaired in some way. Astonishingly, over 80% of visual impairment can be prevented or even cured! Early detection is the key to prevention. Eating right, getting regular eye exams, refraining from smoking, and protecting yourself from UV radiation can prevent future eye problems. The 20-20-20 rule is recommended by the Mayo Clinic. This rule dictates that every 20 minutes look away from your screen (computer, phone, TV,etc.) for 20 seconds, at something that is at least 20 feet away. However, many still take their eyesight for granted. Odds are though, many have wondered “What do blind people see?” “Is it like when I close my eyes?” “Is it just pitch black?”The threshold of legal blindness is 20/200 (or 6/60 outside the USA). This means that an eye chart which can be read by someone legally blind at 20 feet, can be read 200 feet away by a person who has 20/20 vision. But, the question still remains; what do blind people see? Blindness, a condition that affects the eyes and vision, is a topic of intrigue and curiosity. In this article, we will explore the world of blindness, including how blind people perceive the world, the appearance of blind eyes, and the experience of being blind. By delving into these aspects, we aim to provide valuable insights and foster understanding about the lives of blind individuals.

Exploring the Spectrum of Vision Impairment

Immediately following our introduction to the topic, it's essential to delve deeper into the query: "do blind people see black?" To address this, we must consider the various types of vision impairments and their unique impacts on visual perception. Vision loss can range from partial to complete blindness, each presenting a distinct experience. This variation significantly influences whether a person perceives complete darkness, blurred shapes, or even some level of light and color.

Importance of Understanding Blindness

Understanding blindness is vital to dispel misconceptions and promote inclusivity. Through this article, we aim to provide accurate information about blindness, address common questions, and challenge prevailing beliefs. By gaining insights into the experiences of blind people, we can develop empathy and create a more inclusive society. Join us as we embark on a journey to deepen our understanding of blindness and its impact on individuals' lives.

Defining Blindness

What Does Blindness Mean?

Blindness refers to a visual impairment where an individual experiences significant or complete loss of vision. It is a condition that hinders the ability to see and perceive visual stimuli. People who are blind have limited or no functional vision, impacting their daily activities and interactions with the world.

Levels of Blindness

Blindness exists on a spectrum, with varying levels of visual impairment. The levels of blindness are often categorized based on the degree of vision loss. This includes:

  • Total Blindness: Total blindness refers to the complete absence of vision. Individuals who are totally blind have no light perception and are unable to differentiate between light and darkness.

  • Near-Total Blindness: Near-total blindness indicates a minimal amount of residual vision, allowing individuals to perceive light or distinguish large objects but with extremely limited visual acuity.

  • Legal Blindness: Legal blindness is a classification determined by legal and governmental entities for the purpose of qualifying for certain benefits and services. It is defined based on visual acuity and visual field criteria, where individuals with corrected vision below a certain threshold are considered legally blind.

Legal Definition of Blindness

The legal definition of blindness may vary across jurisdictions, but it commonly refers to individuals with visual acuity equal to or worse than 20/200 in the better eye with the best possible correction. It may also include those with a visual field limited to 20 degrees or less.

Statistics on the Prevalence of Blindness Globally and in the US

Blindness is a significant global health issue. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that approximately 253 million people worldwide are visually impaired, with 36 million of them being blind. In the United States, the National Federation of the Blind reports that around 7.6 million individuals have a visual disability, with over 1 million being legally blind.

Understanding the prevalence of blindness both globally and in specific regions is crucial for policymakers, healthcare professionals, and organizations working to address the needs and improve the lives of visually impaired individuals.

Understanding the Types of Blindness

Blindness manifests in several forms, each with its unique impact on vision. Total blindness refers to the complete lack of visual perception, where no light or shapes are discernible. Partial blindness encompasses a range of visual impairments, where individuals might see shapes, light, and even vague outlines, but lack clarity and detail. Legal blindness, a term often misunderstood, defines a level of vision loss that significantly impairs one's ability to perform everyday tasks, even with corrective lenses. By understanding these categories, we can better appreciate the varied visual experiences of those living with blindness.

The Science Behind Sight

The process of seeing is a complex interaction between the eyes and the brain. Light enters the eye, is focused by the lens, and forms an image on the retina. This image is then converted into electrical signals, sent to the brain through the optic nerve, and interpreted as the visuals we perceive. However, in conditions like cortical visual impairment (CVI), the eyes may function normally, but the brain struggles to process and interpret these signals. Exploring these scientific aspects helps demystify how vision can vary so greatly among those with different types of blindness.

To learn more about how technology is revolutionizing assistance for the visually impaired, explore our article on the AI revolution in assistive devices for visually impaired.

Personal Narratives: A Window into Blindness

Personal accounts from individuals who are blind offer invaluable insights into the diverse experiences of vision loss. Through interviews and stories, we hear firsthand how each person perceives the world differently. Some describe a world in grayscale, others talk about seeing bursts of light or color, and yet some experience complete darkness. These narratives challenge our preconceived notions and highlight the individuality of visual experiences in blindness.

Expert Insights on Visual Impairment

Medical experts, such as ophthalmologists and neuroscientists, provide a deeper understanding of blindness. They explain common misconceptions and the biological realities behind them. Their insights shed light on why and how visual experiences vary among individuals with different types of visual impairments, offering a scientific perspective that complements personal narratives.

The Role of Technology in Enhancing Vision

Modern technology plays a crucial role in aiding those with vision impairments. Assistive devices, like those developed by OrCam, use advanced AI to help blind and visually impaired individuals interact with their surroundings. These technologies can read printed text, recognize faces, and even identify products, providing a greater level of independence and engagement with the world.

Discover more about how OrCam's MyEye can empower those with visual impairments by visiting our detailed MyEye product page.

Visualizing the Process of Sight

To aid understanding, diagrams or images that explain the anatomy of the eye, the pathway of visual information to the brain, and how various impairments affect this process can be included. These visual aids, accompanied by descriptive alt text, will enhance accessibility and comprehension for all readers.

How Blind People Perceive the World

The Experience of a Blind Person's Vision 

Blind people experience the world through their other senses, compensating for their lack of visual perception. They rely heavily on touch, hearing, smell, and taste to gather information about their surroundings. This enhanced sensory awareness allows them to navigate their environment, recognize people's voices, and perceive objects and obstacles through sound, texture, and spatial awareness.

Common Misconceptions about Blind People's Vision 

There are several misconceptions surrounding blind people's vision that need clarification. Contrary to popular belief, blind individuals do not "see" darkness or a black void. Instead, their visual experience is the absence of visual stimuli. It is essential to dispel these misconceptions to foster a more accurate understanding of the experiences of blind individuals.

Light Perception Blindness and Its Effects

Some blind individuals have residual light perception, which means they can detect the presence of light, but not discern detailed shapes or images. Light perception blindness can vary in degree, from perceiving bright light to differentiating between light and darkness. This ability to perceive light can still be beneficial, aiding in orientation, differentiating between day and night, and detecting light sources.


Understanding the different ways blind people perceive the world and the misconceptions surrounding their vision helps foster empathy, dispel stereotypes, and promote inclusivity.

Reading and Education for Blind People

Methods and Tools Used by Blind People to Read

Blind people employ various methods and tools to access written information. One of the most prominent methods is through tactile reading, where they use their sense of touch to read raised characters. Some common tools include:

  1. Braille: Braille is a tactile writing system that uses a series of raised dots to represent letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Blind individuals can read and write in Braille using their fingertips, enabling them to access a wide range of written materials.

  2. Tactile Graphics: Tactile graphics are raised diagrams or images that provide a way for blind individuals to access visual information. These graphics use embossed lines, textures, and shapes, allowing blind readers to interpret maps, graphs, and other visual representations.

  3. Large Print and Magnification: For individuals with low vision, larger print formats and magnification tools can enhance readability. Large print books, electronic magnifiers, and screen magnification software are commonly used to accommodate their reading needs.

Braille System and Its Significance 

Braille plays a pivotal role in facilitating literacy and communication for blind individuals. By learning Braille, blind people gain independence in accessing and producing written information. It provides them with the ability to read books, write letters, labels, and notes, and engage in educational and professional pursuits. The Braille system empowers blind individuals to participate fully in society and enjoy equal opportunities for education and employment.

Technology and Assistive Devices for Blind Readers 

Advancements in technology have revolutionized reading for blind individuals. Various assistive devices and software applications have been developed to enhance their reading experience. Some examples include:

  1. Screen Readers: Screen reading software converts text displayed on a computer or mobile device screen into synthesized speech or Braille output. This enables blind users to access digital content, including websites, documents, and emails.

  2. Electronic Braille Displays: These devices convert digital text into Braille, displaying it through a series of raised dots. Blind readers can navigate and read electronic documents, such as e-books, using these portable devices.

  3. Optical Character Recognition (OCR): OCR technology scans printed text and converts it into digital formats that can be read by screen readers or Braille displays. This allows blind individuals to access printed materials such as books, articles, and documents.

The integration of technology and assistive devices has significantly expanded reading possibilities for blind individuals, granting them greater access to information, education, and literature.

The Appearance of Blind Eyes

Understanding the Physical Appearance of Blind Eyes

Blind eyes, or the eyes of individuals who are blind, may exhibit certain physical characteristics associated with their visual impairment. It is important to note that the appearance of blind eyes can vary among individuals, and not all blind individuals have visually distinguishable eye features. However, some common observations include:

  1. Lack of Visual Response: Blind eyes may lack the typical responsive movements associated with visual stimuli. This absence of visual tracking or focus may be noticeable when interacting with individuals who are blind.

  2. Reduced or Absent Iris Function: The iris, which controls the size of the pupil in response to light, may not exhibit the usual functionality in blind eyes. As a result, the pupils may appear fixed or unresponsive to changes in lighting conditions.

  3. Lack of Eye Movement: Blind individuals may not demonstrate coordinated eye movements, such as tracking or following objects visually. This may be due to the absence of visual input and the reliance on other senses for orientation and perception.

Common Characteristics and Variations

While there may be certain general characteristics associated with blind eyes, it is important to recognize that there can be significant variations in appearance among individuals. Some blind individuals may have eyes that appear similar to those without visual impairment, while others may exhibit minor differences in eye alignment or pupil size. It is crucial to avoid making assumptions based solely on the appearance of someone's eyes and to approach each individual with respect and understanding.

Dispel Myths and Misconceptions

There are numerous myths and misconceptions surrounding the appearance of blind eyes. It is essential to dispel these misconceptions to foster a more accurate understanding of visual impairment. Blind eyes are not necessarily clouded, constantly closed, or visibly different from non-blind eyes. Each person's experience of blindness and the appearance of their eyes can vary significantly. It is important to approach discussions and interactions about blindness with sensitivity and respect, focusing on the individual's abilities and experiences rather than making assumptions based on appearance.

By dispelling myths and misconceptions, we can promote a more inclusive and informed society, fostering empathy and understanding towards individuals who are blind.

Causes of Blindness

Common Causes of Blindness

Blindness can have various causes, both congenital (present at birth) and acquired (developed later in life). Some common causes of blindness include:

  1. Cataracts: Cataracts are characterized by the clouding of the lens inside the eye, leading to blurred or opaque vision. They are a major cause of reversible blindness and can be treated through surgical removal of the cloudy lens.

  2. Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve, often due to increased pressure within the eye. It can lead to progressive vision loss and, if left untreated, may result in blindness.

  3. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): AMD primarily affects older adults and leads to the deterioration of the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. This condition can cause significant visual impairment or blindness.

  4. Retinal Detachment: Retinal detachment occurs when the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye, separates from its underlying supportive tissues. It can result in vision loss if not promptly treated.

Factors Leading to Blindness

Several factors contribute to the development of blindness. These include:

  1. Genetic Factors: Certain genetic disorders and inherited conditions can increase the risk of visual impairment and blindness. Examples include retinitis pigmentosa, Leber congenital amaurosis, and albinism.

  2. Infections and Diseases: Infections like trachoma, onchocerciasis (river blindness), and untreated eye conditions such as corneal ulcers can lead to vision loss or blindness. Systemic diseases like diabetes and hypertension can also have ocular complications, potentially causing blindness if not managed effectively.

  3. Eye Injuries and Trauma: Severe eye injuries resulting from accidents, trauma, or exposure to hazardous substances can cause irreversible damage to the eye structures and lead to vision loss.

Preventable and Treatable Causes of Blindness

It is important to note that many causes of blindness are preventable or treatable. By addressing these causes, it is possible to reduce the incidence of blindness. Some examples of preventable and treatable causes include:

  1. Refractive Errors: Uncorrected refractive errors, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, can significantly impact vision. Providing corrective measures like eyeglasses or contact lenses can effectively address these issues and prevent visual impairment.

  2. Infectious Diseases: Many infectious diseases affecting the eye, such as trachoma, can be prevented or treated through proper hygiene practices, access to clean water, and timely medical interventions.

  3. Nutritional Deficiencies: Nutritional deficiencies, particularly vitamin A deficiency, can contribute to blindness. Addressing these deficiencies through balanced diets and vitamin supplementation programs can help prevent associated vision problems.

By understanding the causes of blindness and focusing on prevention, early intervention, and appropriate treatment, it is possible to alleviate the burden of visual impairment and promote eye health.

Living with Blindness

Daily Challenges Faced by Blind Individuals

Living with blindness presents unique challenges in navigating daily life. Some of the common challenges faced by blind individuals include:

  1. Mobility and Navigation: Blind individuals may face difficulties in independently navigating their surroundings, especially in unfamiliar environments. They rely on mobility aids, such as white canes or guide dogs, and may require accessible infrastructure, tactile cues, or audio assistance for orientation.

  2. Access to Information: Obtaining and accessing information can be challenging for blind individuals. Printed materials, visual content, and digital interfaces may not be accessible without appropriate accommodations, such as Braille or audio formats, screen readers, or alternative text descriptions.

  3. Social Interaction and Communication: Blind individuals may encounter barriers in social interactions and communication due to visual cues and non-verbal communication. They may rely on alternative methods such as tactile sign language, verbal descriptions, or assistive technologies for effective communication.

Accessibility and Inclusion for the Blind

Creating accessible and inclusive environments is essential to empower blind individuals and ensure their full participation in society. Some aspects of accessibility and inclusion for the blind include:

  1. Physical Accessibility: Buildings, public spaces, and transportation systems should be designed to accommodate the needs of blind individuals. This includes features like ramps, tactile paths, audible signals at pedestrian crossings, and braille signage.

  2. Digital Accessibility: Websites, software applications, and digital content should adhere to accessibility standards, ensuring compatibility with screen readers, providing alternative text for images, and offering keyboard navigation options.

  3. Education and Employment: Accessible educational materials, inclusive teaching methods, and workplace accommodations are crucial for enabling blind individuals to pursue education and employment opportunities on an equal basis with their sighted peers.

Support Systems and Organizations for Blind People

Numerous support systems and organizations exist to assist blind individuals in overcoming challenges and enhancing their quality of life. These include:

  1. Rehabilitation Services: Rehabilitation centers and programs offer training in orientation and mobility, independent living skills, assistive technology, and vocational rehabilitation to empower blind individuals to lead independent and productive lives.

  2. Advocacy and Support Groups: Advocacy organizations and support groups play a vital role in raising awareness, advocating for the rights of blind individuals, and providing a platform for peer support, shared experiences, and guidance.

  3. Assistive Technology Providers: Companies and organizations specializing in assistive technology develop and provide devices, software, and tools tailored to the needs of blind individuals, enabling greater independence and accessibility.

By addressing the daily challenges faced by blind individuals, promoting accessibility and inclusion, and harnessing the support systems and organizations available, we can create a more inclusive and empowering society for people with visual impairment.

Quotes to Add Depth and Insight

"Blindness is not a limitation; it's a different way of experiencing the world." - Helen Keller

"Blindness separates us from things, but deafness separates us from people." - Helen Keller

"The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision." - Helen Keller

"Blindness is an inconvenience, but deafness is a tragedy." - Helen Keller

"Blindness does not define who we are; it is just a part of our journey." - Unknown

"I have always said that losing my sight does not mean losing my vision." - Stevie Wonder

These quotes provide insightful perspectives on blindness, highlighting the unique experiences and challenges faced by individuals with visual impairment. They emphasize the importance of understanding and embracing diversity while challenging societal perceptions of blindness.

Do Blind People See Black?

Personal Experiences: Beyond the Common Misconception

In discussing their experiences, many blind individuals confront the common misconception: do blind people see black, or is the reality more nuanced? Through personal narratives, we learn that the experience of blindness is far from a monolithic 'black' view. Some describe a complete absence of visual perception, akin to closing one's eyes in a pitch-dark room. Others recount experiences of seeing varying degrees of light, shadows, or even residual visual memories. These accounts vividly illustrate that the visual experience of blind individuals is as diverse as their stories.

Conclusion: A Diverse Spectrum of Visual Experience

Throughout this article, we have explored various aspects related to blindness and gained insights into the experiences of blind individuals. We have discussed the definition of blindness, levels of blindness, prevalence statistics, misconceptions about blind people's vision, methods of reading, causes of blindness, living with blindness, and the importance of accessibility and inclusion.

It is crucial to foster empathy and understanding towards blind individuals. By gaining knowledge about their experiences, challenges, and unique perspectives, we can break down stereotypes, promote inclusivity, and create a more supportive and accessible society for all.

In conclusion, the question "do blind people see black" opens a window into the diverse experiences of those with visual impairments. It challenges our understanding of sight and emphasizes the complexity of the human experience of vision. Blindness is not a one-size-fits-all condition; it encompasses a spectrum of experiences that defy simple categorization into 'seeing' or 'not seeing.' As we continue to explore and understand these unique perspectives, we deepen our empathy and expand our comprehension of the visually diverse world.

Key Takeaways:

Blindness is not a limitation; it is a different way of experiencing the world.

Blind people use various methods to read and access information, including Braille, audio books, and assistive technologies.

Society can improve accessibility and inclusivity by providing physical and digital accommodations and promoting awareness.

Blindness does not define an individual's potential, and many blind individuals have achieved significant accomplishments in various fields.

Empathy, understanding, and support are essential in creating a more inclusive and empowering environment for blind individuals.