10 Misconceptions about Visually Impaired People

Many people have incorrect assumptions about people that are blind/visually impaired. These misconceptions can lead to misguided thinking.

1. Blind people should not cross streets

People sometimes wonder why people with visual limitations are crossing streets. They believe that it is too dangerous for someone with little or no sight to be traveling independently. Although it may be more challenging, some tools assist these people to help them travel safely and effectively.

You may have seen people that are blind walking or crossing a street holding a red and white stick. This “stick” is called a cane, which allows a person who can’t see very well to feel what is in front of them instead of looking at it. For example, if there is a ledge with a step-down, a cane would allow the person to feel the level change in the ground before they trip and fall. The cane is also a signal to other people that a person has limited vision, so if they need assistance, for example, reading a menu, the person will be more likely to understand why they need help.

2. People that are blind cannot read

Another misconception that people assume is that people that are blind cannot read. Depending on if the person has no vision or some vision determines whether they can read print or not. People that are not completely blind may be able to read large print or they may use magnification to read smaller print. However, people that are totally blind obviously cannot read any print at all. So, they learn to read with their fingers using a language called Braille. Braille uses a sequence of raised dots on a paper that makes up a language that is able to be read without eyesight. This is how most people that have little or no vision succeed in school.

3. People think they need to speak louder to people with limited vision

People will sometimes feel that they need to speak louder around a person who is blind/visually impaired. Yes, some people are deaf and blind, but for those who are not deaf, they can hear you just fine. So if you are talking to someone with less vision, you probably do not need to speak louder.

4. Those bumps on the end of the sidewalk are pointless and a waste of the government’s money

The raised bumps on the end of most sidewalks leading into the street are not lacking in a purpose. As discussed earlier in this article, people with low vision can cross roads and travel independently. The raised bumps on the end of a sidewalk are “truncated domes”. They are another tool to let the person know that they are about to go into a street. The raised bumps provide a texture change as the cane comes in contact with the truncated domes. They signal the person to stop and listen for cars before they cross the street.

5. People with limited vision are not as smart as fully sighted people

People will sometimes think that people with less vision or people with any limitation for that matter are less intelligent than those without that limitation. Although it is more challenging for people with physical limitations to do certain things, this does not affect how intelligent they are. There are always other ways to do things to ensure that a person with a physical limitation can be successful. Braille, for example, is used to allow people who cannot see to read and write which enables them to be successful in academics and other areas. Learning a whole new language is quite challenging, but with determination and a good work ethic people with disabilities can prosper and succeed.

6. People with a visual impairment, or any disability, cannot be independent

As discussed earlier, there are always other ways to compensate for a disadvantage. For example, instead of not going out of the house because a person cannot see as well, they can travel independently using a cane. Many tools and techniques enable people with disabilities to prosper like someone who does not have these disadvantages.

7. People need to help people with disabilities with simple tasks

Although things may be more difficult or challenging for people with disadvantages to accomplish, they can still do most things on their own. It is nice for people to offer help to a person with a disability, but if it is a simple task that they are perfectly capable of doing on their own and they do not need help, they will probably tell you. For example, people may want to help a visually impaired person staple a paper, which they are entirely able to do independently with no problem at all. Although the offer is nice if they tell you they can do it on their own, give them a chance.

8. People need to be politically correct when talking to someone with less vision

People will sometimes watch their words when talking to someone with low vision or any other disability. They will avoid words such as “see” because they are afraid they might offend that person. For example, when saying “see what I mean?”, they might rephrase it before they say it even though this “see” is not in a visual context. People with a disability will most likely not care if someone used the word “see”.

9. Everyone’s vision is the same

People who are visually impaired do not all have the same amount of vision. What works for someone who is visually impaired may not work for someone else. One person may have more or less sight than another person, so they each will have to accommodate differently depending on their circumstance. One may use a cane, another a guide dog. Every individual has their special methods that help them compensate for their loss of vision.

10. If you can see the number of fingers a person is holding up, that determines someone’s level of vision

People will sometimes ask someone with low vision how many fingers they are holding up to gauge how well they can see. Although this is one of the tests done at an eye doctor’s office, it is probably not the smartest way to gauge someone’s vision. If a person can tell you correctly how many fingers you are holding up, that may depend on how close you are to them or the contrast of your fingers to the background of where you are located. It may be highly uncomfortable for the visually impaired person because they may feel awkward with someone approaching their vision in this manner. It would be wiser to ask them to describe to you how much they can see instead of testing them with variable circumstances. It may not be as common with adults, but this may occur with kids interacting with someone who is visually impaired.

These misconceptions may be unconscious so that you may have assumed them by mistake. Being a visually impaired person myself, I have encountered most of these due to people’s misguided thinking. I do not usually get offended, however, because I understand that it is just ignorance. Hopefully, these were “eye-opening” for you, and you can keep these in mind the next time you see someone with vision loss.