8 misconceptions about sight loss

By Caroline Butterwick,
updated on Oct 18, 2020

8 misconceptions about sight loss

We would hope that many partially-sighted people feel supported by those around them, and yet so often a lack of awareness can put barriers to this. Here, we debunk the myths surrounding sight loss

From friends guiding me through crowded bars, to strangers helping me find a seat on the train, I’ve experienced lots of support as a partially-sighted person. But I’ve also come across plenty of misconceptions about what it means to live with sight loss. Here, we share eight of these, in the hope of breaking down stigma, and transforming perceptions.

Someone using a cane or guide dog has absolutely no vision

Visual impairment is a spectrum. Some people will have a lot of useful vision, while others may be able to see colours and shapes, have light perception, or, more rarely, have no sight at all. Not every person with sight loss uses a cane or has a guide dog, but people who do can have a range in levels of vision. I’ve overheard people make comments like, “How is she reading that?” when I’ve been looking through Twitter on my phone, cane in my other hand. My cane acts as a symbol that I may need help or that I’m not being rude if I bump into someone. It doesn’t mean I have no useful sight at all. It’s important to be respectful and supportive of those with differing abilities and needs, and not alienate them.

Visually impaired people can’t use technology

Whether it’s texting a friend, sending emails for work, or reading the news, our phones, tablets, and laptops, are a key part of our day – and, for many visually impaired people, that’s just as true.

Holly Tuke, who blogs at Life of a Blind Girl, says: “I use a range of assistive technology on a daily basis, which enables me to carry out tasks just like sighted people. It enhances my independence.”

A few useful tools I’ve found include Windows Magnifier, which zooms in on what’s on my computer screen, and also text-to-speech software – there are lots of free versions available, such as Balabolka, Natural Reader, and WordTalk. We can also adjust the settings on our phones to increase the font, enhance contrast, or read out loud. The likes of Siri and Alexa make it easy to get information quickly in a non-visual way, too.

You can tell someone has sight loss just by looking at them

I’ve been told I “don’t look blind”, or had people be surprised when it comes up that I’m partially sighted. I have to resist the urge to respond: “What does a visually impaired person look like, exactly?” Focusing on our eyes is rarely a way to tell. We can’t assume that someone does or doesn’t have a disability just by looking at them.

People with sight loss can’t take part in sports

Personally, I hated PE as a teenager, and found sports that involve interacting with a ball in any way pretty difficult. But many visually impaired people enjoy sports and exercise – and are perfectly capable of taking part in them.

“I love swimming and tandem cycling,” says Holly. “We may need support from a sighted person, such as having a guide runner, but this is all part of the fun.”

I have friends who play goalball – a team sport designed especially for visually impaired people that uses a ball with bells in order to tell where it is – as well as others who take part in more mainstream sports, from running to wrestling.

You need full sight to enjoy TV, films, or theatre

When I was in school, I struggled to follow what was happening on stage during trips to the theatre. It was only as an adult that I made the obvious connection that it was because I couldn’t see what was happening properly, rather than me being uncultured.

Many TV programmes, cinemas, and theatres, offer audio described showings and performances, which give a description of the visual action so that those with sight loss can follow the story – something I wish I’d known about when I was younger. My local theatre, where I’m discovering my love of plays, also provides me with front row seats so I can better see the stage. It’s always worth asking about accessibility at venues to see how they can better support you.

It’s always worth asking about accessibility at venues to see how they can better support you

No one with sight loss can work

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), only 27% of blind and partially-sighted people of working age are in employment. Many of the barriers causing this seem to come down to a perception that we aren’t able to work, or that employing us will be expensive.

For a lot of jobs, there are adjustments that can, and should, be made, and can often be funded via the government’s Access to Work scheme. “I would be unable to do my job without specialist software such as a screen-reader,” explains Holly. Other adjustments can include support with travel, electronic magnifiers, large screen monitors, or providing documents in an alternative format.

Visually impaired people can’t enjoy fashion or makeup

“Beauty and fashion can be made accessible through learning to apply makeup by touch, and organising your wardrobe in a particular way so that you know which pieces of clothing make a nice outfit,” Holly says. For me, things like using a magnifying mirror help. We can take pride in our appearance, and enjoy the way a good outfit makes us feel, just as much as anyone else.

Our other senses are heightened

We may pay more attention to our other senses – for example, when I cross the road, hearing is particularly important – but there’s nothing special or different about these senses. We just use them more.

Sight loss support

• The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) website has information, advice, and a helpline for further support (0303 123 9999).

• Charity Retina UK also has a helpline, along with email support, information, and volunteering opportunities on its website (0300 111 4000, [email protected])

• The NHS website has information on getting specialist referrals, as well as support groups for those with sight loss.

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