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13 Things You May Not Know About Blind People

13 Things You May Not Know About Blind People

On a stormy evening when the lights went out and my eyes could not adjust to the darkness for a while, I learnt about what it might mean to live with a partially distorted vision. Following sounds and relying on touching objects, I had a unique experience. Afterwards, I was intrigued to know more about how do people with visual impairment live their lives and what do their surroundings mean to them.

This post is a result of that pursuit for understanding. Here are thirteen things that you may not know about blind people. And these thirteen things will go a long way in helping you deal with your awkwardness of interacting with people who have visual impairment.

1. They may possess some form of perception, if not their full sight.

Visual impairment does not equate with complete loss of vision. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15.88% of people who are visually impaired, face total darkness or are blind. The remaining 84.12% have partial or residual vision, like color perception, light perception, movement or even form perception. They may be able to see in blurs or varying degrees of distortion, with literal blind spots in some areas. As you can see, there are many ways of having low vision, and it is not a binary between sight and darkness.

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2. They are not ashamed of having visual impairment.

Many blind people report perceiving their visual impairment as a mere physical challenge. By no means do they see it as debilitating or the end of their joy. And they don’t believe that ‘being’ blind is their identity. This group of people is as powerful, magnificent and capable as anybody else. And the onus on making a much needed attitudinal shift lies with the rest of us. So, the next time you find yourself thinking “Oh poor thing, s/he is blind”, check yourself and explore how you can change some deep rooted assumptions that play out when interacting with people who have different abilities.

3. They do not always need acute supervision.

Blind people are far more aware of their environment and have more mastery than they are given credit for. They may need inputs just like anyone else, to familiarize themselves in a new place or learn a new technology. But, visually impaired people by no means are perpetually dependent on others for their living. I would urge you to approach all visually impaired people with this in mind – If they need assistance, trust that they will ask for it on their own.

4. They feel as insulted by overcompensating kindness, as by judgment.

Some visually impaired people I know, often wish that everyone else would just treat them as people, and not as people with a condition. Unsolicited and extra assistance is something that may make them feel small. For example, helping them cross the road and taking them to their destination, when they just ask for directions. Or buying groceries for them and counting money on their behalf. Even picking up something they dropped and taking over carrying their stuff, are all considered as overcompensating kindness, which many blind people report as derogatory. Ask if they need help. Accept it if they say no.

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5. They are not super-sensory, and may not have heightened senses.

Popular culture depicts that if one of the senses of a person stops working, the others become sharper. This is not necessarily true! Though blind people may rely more on their other senses, and develop a strong memory or are tuned into auditory cues, they may not always have a sixth sense. However, there is evidence that suggests blind people use a process called ‘echolocation’, whereby sound waves are used to determine the location and size of objects within a particular area. Dr. Gavin Buckingham says, “They will either snap their fingers or click their tongue to bounce sound waves off objects, a skill often associated with bats, which use echolocation when flying.

6. They enjoy being spoken to with normal language.

You don’t have to hold yourself back from using vision oriented language with them, like look, see, watch, witness or even viewpoint! They do not take offense at such words, and might actually feel awkward if they sense you making a conscious effort to avoid such terms. Instead, just let them be a part of your experience, as they make you a part of theirs. After all, blindness is not a stigma.

7. They are as responsive and engaging with their environment, as any other human.

Yes. People with blindness like exploring new places, go to the movies, music concerts, try out new restaurants and even indulge in adventure sports like racing, snowboarding, trekking, skydiving etc. They as excited or hindered by their surroundings, as anybody else. This predisposition primarily depends on the personality types of individuals. Some are introverted and prefer their alone time or controlled environments. Others are extraverted and proactively seek varied experience.

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8. They do dream while sleeping.

Their dreams show up just the way they experience daily life- with a rich mix of sensory cues. In a Danish study (2014) of 50 blind adults, 18% of the blind participants (both congenital and later-onset) reported tasting in at least one dream, compared with 7% of sighted participants. Nearly 30% of the blind reported smelling in at least one dream. Almost 70% reported a touch sensation and 86% hearing. However, the emotions and themes of their dreams are known to be similar to that of people with sight.

9. They understand colors in unique ways.

Some individuals who develop blindness later in life, relate to colors just like people with sight. For others who haven’t experienced color as intricately, relate to it through association and building concepts like the fire is yellow or the sky is blue. They also associate it with energy forms: blue=cold, white=frozen, red=hot. Sometimes s/he can only tell bright colors or they might have a hard time telling blue or black or brown apart, or pink from white. Whatever is the case, colors have meaning for all people and the blind understand the concept.

10. They have more nightmares than sighted people.

This is a result of mental impressions or interpretations of distressing situations, because blind people generally report more anxiety in daily life than others. They find it challenging to avoid stressors, and hence their nightmares are closely tied to reality- falling into a ditch, getting run over by a car, running into a tree or getting stalked. Dr. Amani Meaidi who has studied this phenomenon closely, says such nightmares don’t affect the quality of life of blind people, but are a true indicator of the experiences they have.

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11. Not all of them use a cane.

Since there are varying degrees of visual impairment and blindness, some individuals seek assistance in the form of white canes or red tips canes which denote degree of impairment. Many others prefer using guide dogs, who are trained to help them navigate through curbs, doors or crosswalks. They keep an eye on their owner’s right shoulder to protect against collisions.

12. They are open to curious inquiries about their situation.

You may not know how to be with people who are blind, or might want to understand them better. Thus, it is perfectly fine for you to ask them about their lives and how their experiences are. The key here is to be curious, have a willingness to learn and appreciate the uniqueness that comes with being visually impaired. As said earlier, many blind people don’t see their situation as limiting, and can offer great insights, if you just ask.

13. Their success also hinges on how you view them.

Psychologists say that success in life, education and jobs of visually impaired individuals are directly proportional to the expectations that people around have of them, and the degree of positive attitudes they encounter. The more capable and able you believe they are, the more they will shine. Self-esteem, self-belief and self-image are partially formed through social interactions, and it is important that people encounter empowering experiences. Be that experience!

As you allow this understanding to settle, just remember that blindness is not a defect or a stigma. It is a characteristic, just as sight is, and Helen Keller’s words capture this fact beautifully: “I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a manmade world.”

Featured photo credit: blind woman walking in a park via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach

The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach

In business, in social relationships, in family… In whatever context conflict is always inevitable, especially when you are in the leader role. This role equals “make decisions for the best of majority” and the remaining are not amused. Conflicts arise.

Conflicts arise when we want to push for a better quality work but some members want to take a break from work.

Conflicts arise when we as citizens want more recreational facilities but the Government has to balance the needs to maintain tourism growth.

Conflicts are literally everywhere.

Avoiding Conflicts a No-No and Resolving Conflicts a Win-Win

Avoiding conflicts seem to be a viable option for us. The cruel fact is, it isn’t. Conflicts won’t walk away by themselves. They will, instead, escalate and haunt you back even more when we finally realize that’s no way we can let it be.

Moreover, avoiding conflicts will eventually intensify the misunderstanding among the involved parties. And the misunderstanding severely hinders open communication which later on the parties tend to keep things secret. This is obviously detrimental to teamwork.

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Some may view conflicts as the last step before arguments. And they thus leave it aside as if they never happen. This is not true.

Conflicts are the intersect point between different individuals with different opinions. And this does not necessarily lead to argument.

Instead, proper handling of conflicts can actually result in a win-win situation – both parties are pleased and allies are gained. A better understanding between each other and future conflicts are less likely to happen.

The IBR Approach to Resolve Conflicts

Here, we introduce to you an effective approach to resolve conflicts – the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach. The IBR approach was developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their 1981 book Getting to Yes. It stresses the importance of the separation between people and their emotions from the problem. Another focus of the approach is to build mutual understanding and respect as they strengthen bonds among parties and can ultimately help resolve conflicts in a harmonious way. The approach suggests a 6-step procedure for conflict resolution:

Step 1: Prioritize Good Relationships

How? Before addressing the problem or even starting the discussion, make it clear the conflict can result in a mutual trouble and through subsequent respectful negotiation the conflict can be resolved peacefully. And that brings the best outcome to the whole team by working together.

Why? It is easy to overlook own cause of the conflict and point the finger to the members with different opinions. With such a mindset, it is likely to blame rather than to listen to the others and fail to acknowledge the problem completely. Such a discussion manner will undermine the good relationships among the members and aggravate the problem.

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Example: Before discussion, stress that the problem is never one’s complete fault. Everyone is responsible for it. Then, it is important to point out our own involvement in the problem and state clearly we are here to listen to everyone’s opinions rather than accusing others.

Step 2: People Are NOT the Cause of Problem

How? State clearly the problem is never one-sided. Collaborative effort is needed. More importantly, note the problem should not be taken personally. We are not making accusations on persons but addressing the problem itself.

Why? Once things taken personally, everything will go out of control. People will become irrational and neglect others’ opinions. We are then unable to address the problem properly because we cannot grasp a fuller and clearer picture of the problem due to presumption.

Example: In spite of the confronting opinions, we have to emphasize that the problem is not a result of the persons but probably the different perspectives to view it. So, if we try to look at the problem from the other’s perspective, we may understand why there are varied opinions.

Step 3: Listen From ALL Stances

How? Do NOT blame others. It is of utmost importance. Ask for everyone’s opinions. It is important to let everyone feel that they contribute to the discussion. Tell them their involvement is essential to solve the problem and their effort is very much appreciated.

Why? None wants to be ignored. If one feels neglected, it is very likely for he/she to be aggressive. It is definitely not what we hope to see in a discussion. Acknowledging and being acknowledged are equally important. So, make sure everyone has equal opportunity to express their views. Also, realizing their opinions are not neglected, they will be more receptive to other opinions.

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Example: A little trick can played here: Invite others to talk first. It is an easy way to let others feel involved and ,more importantly, know their voices are heard. Also, we can show that we are actively listening to them by giving direct eye-contact and nodding. One important to note is that never interrupt anyone. Always let them finish first beforeanother one begins.

Step 4: Listen Comes First, Talk Follows

How? Ensure everyone has listened to one another points of view. It can be done by taking turn to speak and leaving the discussion part at last. State once again the problem is nothing personal and no accusation should be made.

Why? By turn-taking, everyone can finish talking and voices of all sides can be heard indiscriminantly. This can promote willingness to listen to opposing opinions.

Example: We can prepare pieces of paper with different numbers written on them. Then, ask different members to pick one and talk according to the sequence of the number. After everyone’s finished, advise everyone to use “I” more than “You” in the discussion period to avoid others thinking that it is an accusation.

Step 5: Understand the Facts, Then Address the Problem

How? List out ALL the facts first. Ask everyone to tell what they know about the problems.

Why? Sometimes your facts are unknown to the others while they may know something we don’t. Missing out on these facts could possibly lead to inaccurate capture of the problem. Also, different known facts can lead to different perception of the matter. It also helps everyone better understand the problem and can eventually help reach a solution.

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Example: While everyone is expressing their own views, ask them to write down everything they know that is true to the problem. As soon as everyone has finished, all facts can be noted and everyone’s understanding of the problem is raised.

Step 6: Solve the Problem Together

How? Knowing what everyone’s thinking, it is now time to resolve the conflict. Up to this point, everyone should have understood the problem better. So, it is everyone’s time to suggest some solutions. It is important not to have one giving all the solutions.

Why? Having everyone suggesting their solutions is important as they will not feel excluded and their opinions are considered. Besides, it may also generate more solutions that can better resolve the conflicts. Everyone will more likely be satisfied with the result.

Example: After discussion, ask all members to suggest any possible solutions and stress that all solutions are welcomed. State clearly that we are looking for the best outcomes for everyone’s sake rather than battling to win over one another. Then, evaluate all the solutions and pick the one that is in favor of everyone.

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