Daniel Williams looks at misinterpretations about people living with sight loss
Lots of people, including those who have been blind since childhood, haven’t the foggiest what being blind is supposed to look like so comments like ‘You don’t look blind’ can be somewhat baffling.
Visually impaired people who don’t use a cane or a guide dog often show no visible sign of sight loss so look the same as any sighted person and it’s often this that confuses people.
The eyes (don’t) have it
Of course, as with many things, this stems from stereotypes, but people with sight loss don’t all have similar eye characteristics or a standard ‘look’ and they don’t conform to a set pattern of non-looking.
Then there is how a blind person walks; if you have a guide dog, you tend to walk much faster, just to keep up with it. You can walk as confidently as anyone else, whether or not you walk with a mobility aid or are accompanied by a sighted guide or a guide dog. Visually impaired people don’t all shuffle about, chin on chest, trying to look at their feet and bumping into things!
Common (and hilarious to people with sight loss) misinterpretations include:
- Only elderly people have sight loss.
- If you’re blind, how come you are so confident and capable?
- Why aren’t you miserable?
- You can’t be blind if you wear make-up!
- You wear such fashionable clothes; you can’t possibly not see!
There will always be some elderly people who may look frail or unsteady and it is often this that gives rise to the assumption that all blind people struggle and need assistance.
Most people with visual impairment live life to the full; they are confident, ambitious and outgoing. They style their hair nicely - give or take the odd bad hair day – and shave or apply make-up just like everyone else.
21st Century changes
After living with a visual impairment for over 25 years, it seems that not much has changed surrounding the media and fashion industry’s portrayal of sight loss. After carrying out various online searches, it’s still mostly represented in a bland and old fashion light.
Some sight loss charities seem to constantly portray images of older white ladies with white hair wearing dark sunglasses, however this is a stereotype that needs to change, as blind people come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, sexual orientations, classes and personalities - just like everyone else within society.
Old fashioned fashion and media
So, good people of the fashion and media industries, why aren't we walking down the catwalk with our guide dogs, represented on manikins in shop windows and on advertising boards in a modern and inclusive country that celebrates equality and diversity? Answers via email to firstname.lastname@example.org please as I’m always happy to discuss.
Although things are improving, TV programmes such as soaps still underrepresent people with visual impairments and even if they are included, they seem not to be a lead character or they portray sight loss in a negative way, focusing on what people can’t do, rather than what they can. This seems strange as people with visual impairments are part of our society and I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this.
All different, but mostly the same
So, the thing is, people with visual impairments are just the same as the rest of the population - some dress well, some are very well educated and have professional careers, some speak cool stuff and just like everyone else…and some do not.
The facts are that blind people are generally a happy, outgoing lot who enjoy life without a fear of being vulnerable.
So next time to bump into a person with sight loss (like what I did there?), just treat them as you would anyone else and if they look like they may need some help, just ask.
All the best,
Daniel Williams was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 8 and now helps to improve the lives of others living with sight loss through his business, Visualise Training and Consultancy https://www.visualisetrainingandconsultancy.com/