Common Questions About Blindness

Have you ever come across a blind person and wanted to ask a question about how they manage their life without sight? You may not give it much thought until you observe that the person who can’t see is doing remarkably well without any assistance from a sighted companion.

Wouldn’t it be just great if you could go right up close and simply ask as a few people do? Most sighted people are too polite or fear it might be too much of a personal intrusion to ask. This is possible because, when we see another person coping with a visual disability, we are reminded of our own vulnerabilities and wonder how we would continue to manage our lives independently in the same situation.

So the person who is blind or visually impaired can seem to others as being “mysterious, unfathomable and awe-inspiring. We are like the 8th wonder of the world,” as reading on a blog post.

How kind of you to think so. But life for the blind and visually impaired is not that mysterious when you view life from another perspective.

How Can a Person Who Says They Are Blind Also Appear to See Some Things?

The confusion begins with the word ‘blind’ and how we tend to think it means only one thing. To be blind is usually thought of as being unable to see, to be without the function of sight; in short, to be sightless.

This conjures up images of blind people living in the darkness where their world is void of light. This is only true for “about 10-15 percent of blind people,” who, according to the Perkins School for the blind, “see nothing at all.”

What is very important to know is that there are varying degrees of blindness. Not everyone who is diagnosed with a progressive eye condition and told they are Legally Blind will necessarily expect to lose all their vision. The person with a degree of blindness may still be using a residual amount of central and/or peripheral vision, depending on their eye condition, and it may stay that way for years.

That is why people are confused when they see the person they assume to be blind look at a watch to check the time but then promptly walk straight into a doorway they simply didn’t see. Or, the blind person might use eye contact but fail to locate their coffee cup right in front of them.

Why Do Some People Have a Guide Dog and Others Use a Long White Cane?

A guide dog and a long white cane are considered as mobility aids for people who are blind or have low vision. Which one they prefer is a personal choice based on their benefits and drawbacks.

A guide dog, for example, helps its blind handler to move around obstacles, whereas the person using a white cane is more likely to encounter the obstacle, then move around it.

Another preference is being able to fold up a white cane having arrived at a destination, whereas the guide dog requires feeding, toileting, and other canine attention. Some people choose a guide dog because they feel more protected and like to trust in their dog’s ability to follow commands, while others like to use a long white cane because of the sense of freedom it affords them.

Basically, one requires a life-long commitment to working together as a team; the other is a tool in one’s hands, with both options needing different skills to achieve safe mobility.

Do People Who Are Blind All Read Braille?

No. To develop the skill required to learn the tactile language of Braille is a person’s choice. Like learning a spoken language, it depends on a person’s need, their motivation and the benefits gained by dedicating time to learning the skill of translating Braille dots into words.

Some people with low vision opt to learn a basic amount of Braille to enable them to read tactile signs, while others living with a visual disability will take on learning Braille to a higher level of proficiency.

The reason why people are no longer obligated to learn Braille is due to advances in technology. An entire industry has sprung up to assist the blind and visually impaired to vie with sighted technology users by using devices collectively known as Assistive Technology. This wide range of devices enables people with a visual disability to perform tasks more independently. Certain devices which use audio (and sometimes Braille) are readily available in the marketplace.

Do shop around, however, as these technological aids can be expensive. Take a sneak peek behind the scenes if you would like to know how blind people use computers without sight.

How Do Blind People Identify Money?

One main skill in being blind or visually impaired is being highly organized. For example, preparing ahead of time to maintain independence in money matters means having your wallet in order before you leave home. This gives the person with a visual impairment the ability to keep track of their transactions.

Using a variety of folding techniques, a banknote is more recognizable by touch. A $5 note can be folded in half with the short ends together while a $10 note is folded in half lengthwise. Coins are best kept in a separate purse with adaptive dividers for quicker counting.

But perhaps the most trustworthy way to sort and handle money is to get hold of an electronic money identifier. This device, called the iBill Talking Bank Note Identifier is free of charge to US citizens who would like one and can fill out a form with the Treasury Department.

Another great example of adaptive technology is the growth of Smartphone Apps specifically designed to identify money. Those with a visual impairment who also like to travel and use iPhone technology may find this App, LookTel Money Reader invaluable as it can identify the different denominations of 21 countries.

This certainly brings a new meaning to how money can talk in your favor.

Do Blind People Like to Feel a Person’s Face if Meeting for the First Time?

No — this is more prevalent in movies than in real life.

When a person who is blind or visually impaired meets a sighted person, they are using different sensitivities to gauge a picture of the other person. Their blind eyes may be impervious to visual clues but people give off certain ‘vibes’ that are felt without having to physically touch them.

There is also much to be said for listening to the tonal quality of a voice — subtle body language is heard through nuances of tone.

It is a skill to observe life through all the senses, including the sixth sense of intuition, which become more heightened for those whose sight fades.

On the whole, a person who has adapted to a life of being blind will be only too happy to answer your questions if you trust yourself to inquire.

Are There Special Techniques Blind People Use When Shopping?

Yes. There are several ways in which a person with a visual impairment can stay on top of closet clutter and know which clothes they are choosing. People all have a certain dress style and not only can the person with a visual impairment continue to choose clothes that suit their fashion preferences and budget, but their friends can also help.

The process begins at the purchase phase, and often a sighted shop assistant or friend can help by describing the color or style of a garment. The person with low vision can also shop on their own and will be attracted by the texture, style, and comfort of the item.

Once at home, storing clothing requires a methodical storage system and, equally vital, a way to remember that system. It’s an individual choice but helpful techniques include:

  • Improving the lighting in the dressing area (for people with low vision).
  • Hanging clothes together as coordinates: put a business shirt with matching trousers or a jacket with coordinating dress.
  • Sorting by style and keeping items in groups; for example, all work clothing can be to the left of a closet, with casual wear to the right. Clothes that fit both groups can be in the middle (such as a pair of black trousers or skirt).
  • Creating specific drawers for other items like socks, scarves, and accessories.
  • Using a variety of baskets and textural bags to help identify items quickly like lingerie and hosiery, tops and ties.
  • Pinning a Braille label to the back of the garment.
  • Sewing a small button onto the inside of a garment. For example, ask a sighted person to sew a small round button on clothes that are white, or light in color; and a small square button on clothes that are black or dark in nature.
  • Storing shoes together in their original box for quick retrieval, or using a storage rack.

One other great tip is having a portable mirror to take outdoors to maximize natural lighting if requiring a little more light to see. Any system a blind or visually-impaired person chooses will work every time, as long as they return each garment to its designated spot after use or washing. Having a methodical system will save heaps of time and stress in the long run — retain confidence to keep stepping out in style.

It is also helpful to know what happens when a person with low vision goes into the bathroom and how this area is micro-managed to locate personal items most effectively.

On the whole, a person who has adapted to a life of low vision will be only too happy to answer your questions if you are simply willing to ask.

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