When you hear the word blind what is the first thing you imagine? For most people, it is the usual stereotype of a person wearing dark sunglasses and walking around with a cane or guide dog. Additionally, the word blind indicates for most people complete vision loss or total darkness.
In today's blog post, our guest author Chad explains to us how it is to be blind and that the word blind is more complex than most people think. Chad Bouton is a legally blind journalist, accessibility researcher, podcast host, and small business owner.
There are various levels and degrees of blindness. If we are defining blindness from a medical standpoint, then blindness is defined as visual acuity worse than 20/400 with the best possible correction, or less than 10 degrees peripherally. To put it another way, someone whose visual acuity is 20/400 can see something at 20 feet, whereas someone with normal vision can see this at 400 feet. When a person’s field of vision is affected to the point of legal blindness, it is like looking through a paper towel roll, not being able to see what is beside, above, or below you. The problem with visual acuity is that it cannot predict how impacted a person will be in their everyday life. For instance, two people can both have Retinitis Pigmentosa with a visual acuity of 20/400 and less than 10 degrees peripherally, however, these individuals might not experience the same level of blindness. The reality is one of these individuals can possibly use their functioning vision better which allows them to complete tasks the other cannot. Another level of complexity is that many eye diseases present secondary conditions. Along with my condition of Retinitis Pigmentosa, I have a secondary condition of cataracts which makes the little bit I can see very blurry and foggy. My sister has Retinitis Pigmentosa with a secondary condition of nystagmus, which causes her eyes to shake rapidly. So being visually impaired or legally blind is different for every person no matter the diagnosis. Some people handle it differently and are more determined to do it for themselves. Others are more open to asking for help and take any assistance offered.
I think it is important to highlight that just because someone is diagnosed as blind, this does not mean they cannot see at all. Instead, a vast amount of people who have been diagnosed as blind still retain useable vision that allows them to navigate throughout their environment. Blind does not always mean that someone is no longer able to see because the reality is that every individual is different and retains their own level of functioning vision. Someone who is blind can have light perception while other blind people can see outlines or even shapes. I think the problem is that too many people are given misinformation and then accept it as fact. Additionally, mass media has done a terrible job of accurately depicting blind people from the very beginning and remain to represent us the wrong way. If you know or encounter a blind person, I recommend just asking them what their level of vision is instead of assuming what they can or cannot see. By knowing their visual acuity, you will be able to assist them better with their specific needs.