Not knowing something is not as bad as thinking you know something that turns out to be untrue. Or maybe it is true, just not in all situations. I’m here to debunk the 15 myths about blindness and blind people that annoy me the most.
If you have any questions, go ahead and write them in the comments. I usually answer – unless they are too way out, like the random guy who came up to me on a train to ask something really inappropriate. As a general rule, if the question would shock your grandma, it’s not appropriate to ask a complete stranger! In those cases, a stern “why do you feel that you need to know that” usually embarrasses people enough to get them scuttling away! But as I said, if people genuinely want to learn something, I don’t bite when they ask questions.
So here are the things that aren’t true, or aren’t always true…
1. All blind people touch people’s faces when they meet for the first time
Really, for me, that’s just weird. I hate the way that old films portray this as normal. I wouldn’t want anyone getting into my personal space like that. It’s an intimate gesture, and anyway I don’t want anyone ruining my make-up.
Also, it doesn’t give you that much information. I’d much rather focus on all the other information that many sighted people miss – what people actually say, when their tone of voice doesn’t match the message they want to give, the intonation, the hesitations, or the things they don’t say. That gives you much more information to work with than whether someone is wearing glasses or trying to hide a massive spot on their chin.
People who have asked to do this in my experience have tended to be a bit creepy anyway, and I would never say yes – so don’t feel obliged to either. Some people just use this as a way to get up close and personal with strangers, particularly those they might fancy.
2. We have better senses
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “but all your other senses are heightened, aren’t they?” I think actually what’s happening is that we get used to using them more. So it’s not about being born with super-hearing or a sense of smell as good as the nearest Labrador, but if your hearing and sense of smell are what you have to work with, then you work with them.
If person A just notices the smell of the roses because it’s pleasant, and person B knows that smelling them means he’s nearly home – well Person B is probably more likely to tune into it.
If person A doesn’t hear the cyclist approaching from behind, and person B does – just because they know that some cyclists don’t care about pedestrians and the sound of the bike is the only clue to keeping out of their way, it’s not super-hearing that helped, but a trained sense of hearing – probably due to previous near-misses with cyclists!
3. We like loud things because we can hear them
It didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard of blind children that were terrified of their Christmas presents because everyone got them something loud! For example, Lego wasn’t loud, but I enjoyed it as much as my auditory toys. So if buying for a blind child, try to find out what he or she likes, rather than just assuming that they would like something because it makes a noise.
Far from liking noise, some blind people have noise sensitivity and don’t like to be in loud places with a lot going on. Apparently in the infant school I clamped my hands over my ears and yelled “let me out of here” because I wasn’t a fan of the volume of noise in the dinner hall. The adult Kirsty doesn’t do that any more and will find her own way out if it gets too much, but the temptation to do what the 5-year-old Kirsty did is still there sometimes!
4. We are all good at music
Just because there have been a couple of famous blind musicians, it doesn’t mean everyone will be good at music. Perhaps music is appealing to many blind people because you can fully appreciate the end result without sight. But there are other skills for which a good sense of hearing can also give you an advantage. At school, I was always good at languages because I really listened. I wasn’t expecting subtitles or visual clues in the listening test and I found it easy to memorise the sounds. But someone else might hate both music and languages, and it’s never good to generalise.
5. We all read Braille/large print
It’s cool if people offer me a Braille menu in a restaurant, but a large print one would be of no use. The energy company saying that they can’t email me my letter and insisting on sending all future correspondence in large print was not helpful. Some blind people read Braille. Others can read large print. Others only use audio. Assumptions don’t help because everyone has different skills, experience, and reading preferences.
6. We don’t care how we look
It’s true that there are some people who couldn’t care less about their physical appearance, and this attitude generally doesn’t serve them well at job interviews! We live in a world where most people can see us, and that’s a thing. Some people may try to rebel against this, but personally I don’t see what good it serves.
It’s the same with everyone else – take any group of sighted people and you’ll find some care more about their appearance, others less so. Blind people are no different.
But it’s not true that because I can’t see myself, I don’t care how I look. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a make-up article on my blog.
I can’t see the end result, but who doesn’t enjoy being told they look good after they’ve put some effort into getting ready for a night out? I like to try and make the best of my appearance – partly because people treat me better, but partly because if you feel good, you give off more confident vibes and really I want to make the best of what I have, whether that’s by using clothes, make-up, or accessories such as jewellery or my owl bag.
7. We can tell how old people are by hearing their voice
Just don’t. It’s not a cool game. I refuse to play, but if you insist, you had it coming if someone adds 20 years on to your age!
8. Everything needs to be huge
It took me ages to find a nice tactile watch that wasn’t the size of a saucer. It used to be better, and I guess demand has gone down because more people are using smart watches. The one I have now was from a friend in Germany, but if it breaks or stops working, I’m not sure what I’ll do because most of the other ones now are enormous.
I appreciate that some low-vision aids have to be larger so that people can see the large print, but we don’t all need telephones with huge buttons, clock faces as wide as our wrist or things that are big and clunky just because they’re for someone who is blind.
9. We all use the same tech
My phone and my laptop make life so much easier for me, and I couldn’t do anything with a magnifier.
Someone once commented on my kitchen that it looked normal. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to look like, but it turned out they meant it wasn’t full of talking gadgets or special things to make cooking easier.
I have tactile markers on the washing machine, dishwasher, and oven. I have a jug with raised measurements on the inside. But that’s about it. Other people have talking microwaves and all kinds of stuff from specialist shops – and that’s ok.
Just because something was designed with blind people in mind, it doesn’t mean that all blind people will find it useful.
Imagine you brought out a skincare range for women in their 30s. Great, I might be interested. But then I discover it’s for people with oily skin and you’ve lost me right there, because I don’t.
10. We never watch tv or go to the cinema
This isn’t true. I don’t go to the cinema often, but when I do, I go to audio described performances, where the additional information about what’s going on is given through a headset.
I don’t watch a lot of tv, it’s true, but I do have Netflix and S and I sometimes watch films together. I’m more interested now that you can filter by programmes, so I only see the ones with audio description, but some blind people really enjoy tv.
11. The people with us must be our carers
“No, it’s not her girlfriend, it’s her mum!” My friend, only about 10 years older than me, was horrified. She was neither my girlfriend, nor my mum, nor my carer, which is what people often assume. She was just my friend and we were walking along, arm in arm, because she was guiding me.
Another friend was stopped when we were in the supermarket by someone who wanted to know about caring for disabled people. It’s kind of insulting to assume that the only reason someone would be hanging out with a disabled person is because you are their carer.
12. We all know each other
I was walking down the steps to my train platform, only to be told that my friend was “over there”. Apart from the fact that “over there” wasn’t massively helpful, it turned out the guy talking to me had just assumed I knew, or wanted to hang out with, another guy with a guide dog. I heard the other guy talking to his dog and had no idea who he was.
I understand that some people who have gone through the specialist school system and attended schools for the blind might know a lot of blind people, but I went to mainstream school.
It’s like if you meet someone of a certain nationality and are really surprised that they don’t know some obscure person from the other end of the country who happens to be of the same nationality.
And it’s not just sighted people that make this assumption – blind people do it too, which I find a bit bizarre!
I think that some of it comes down to the fact that some people socialise predominantly with other blind people – but some of us don’t, so don’t be surprised if we don’t know your aunt’s friend’s next door neighbour from 50 miles away who happens to be blind!
13. We all have guide dogs
I loved my golden guiding girl, but I know blind people who don’t even like dogs, and have met people who couldn’t take responsibility for looking after an animal. Guide dogs are fantastic, but they aren’t right for everyone. They’re a big commitment – totally worth it if you love dogs and can make that commitment, but not everyone’s character or lifestyle are suited to having a four-legged friend.
Also, as smart as they are, the doggies can’t read – so please don’t try to give directions to them or show them a map. Yes, it happened to us!
14. We all sit in the dark
I can function as well in the dark as I can with the light on, but I don’t sit in the dark because I can see the difference. The light doesn’t help me to see anything else, such as shapes or colours, but it looks nicer than darkness. I love to sea the sun streaming in through my window, and it’s handy that I can see when a bulb needs changing. Also, when I lived on my own with my dog, I wouldn’t have wanted her to sit in the dark all the time!
I guess it may be different for people who don’t see light at all, but still I think they should make sure they’re not inviting sighted friends into a house of darkness because even for me, it was a bit strange when someone did that!
If I want something quickly from another room, I don’t bother turning lights on and off as I go, but if I’m going to be anywhere for a period of time, I’d rather put the light on.
15. When we’ve finished eating, it looks like feeding time at the zoo
I have a real issue with the dining in the dark experience, but that’s a post for another day.
I’m not denying that some blind people have more difficulty eating. Some people have dexterity issues. Others lose their sight suddenly or later in life, which means they have to gain a whole new set of eating skills and learn to do things differently. A bunch of fully-sighted people plunged into darkness probably wouldn’t make a very good job of their first meal … but it’s not fair to assume that someone who’d been eating without sight for the last 30 years would have the same problems.
Of course anyone can drop something or spill something – nobody is perfect. That has nothing to do with whether you can see or not.
S and I go for meals out as a fun thing to do. We go out for dinner with friends. On average I don’t tend to drop, spill or knock things over as much as other people, partly because I am very mindful about where things are and don’t make sweeping hand gestures, and because I have a thing about not wanting to look clumsy. I’m also a bit more relaxed than I was in my 20s – if the food comes out in a dish in the middle of the table and someone offers to serve me, that’s fine. I know I could do it myself, but don’t need to prove it on every occasion!
Some things are easier to eat than others. But I don’t approach the task with a sense of dread or leave a trail of food, broken glass and food on my clothes. I’ve learned how to use a knife not only to cut, but to measure how big chunks of food are. I’ve learned how to guess how much food is on my fork by how much weight is on there. Occasionally I underestimate, but that’s better than overestimating and approaching your mouth with something that won’t fit!
Anyway back to what I was saying. It doesn’t mean I’ll never make a mistake, but I’ve had years of learning to develop strategies for eating without looking, so I don’t have the same problems as someone who suddenly tried to eat in total darkness. It’s not accurate for someone who’s eaten without the lights on to think they know how it is for me.
Are there any more myths you think we should explore?
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If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in these other posts about visual impairment too:
- Make-up without sight – how one blind woman does it
- They lost my business after 15 years – why online accessibility is important
- World Braille day – why I’m grateful for the invention of Braille
- L’Occitane – bringing Braille labels to products