Individuals who are blind or visually impaired are “normal” people who go to work and go to school just like you.
I was born with retinitis pigmentosa or RP. I wasn’t diagnosed with RP until I was 7 years old. With RP, I don’t have any peripheral vision. My vision is like a tunnel where I only see what is in front of me. I also can’t see at night.
Because of my visual impairment, I use my cane when I need it. A big pet peeve of mine is when I am out-and-about and I see people staring and watching me. What they don’t know is that I can see them looking at me. My cane helps me not to run into anything and to let people know that I am visually impaired. I think it’s rude when people feel obligated to stare for long periods of time.
A woman saw me using my cane at a bus stop and asked me where I was heading and if I needed help. I told her I didn’t but thank you for asking. I also told her that I was going to the Arizona Daily Star. She asked me if I was a newspaper delivery person and I told her no and that I was an apprentice in the editorial department. She looked surprised and said, “Oh! I didn’t know the Daily Star hired blind people!” I said, “Yeah.” I wanted to say more, but I was mad in the moment and kept my mouth shut.
Being in the blind/visually impaired community, there is a lot of access to accessibility in technology.
Brittany Honyouti is a 19-year-old cosmetology student who has oculocutaneous albinism. This causes her to not have pigment in her hair, skin and eyes. She is sensitive to light and she has nystagmus, or involuntary eye movements. Due to the nystagmus, Honyouti has a hard time focusing on objects.
“When I am at a restaurant and reading a menu, I use assistive technology to help me read. I am given weird looks by others,” said Honyouti. She takes pictures of menus in restaurants and fast food places. She uses the zoom feature to help her read what the menus say.
“I think it’s because they think I’m taking a picture of other people,” Honyouti said. “If I can’t see something I’m going to use the tools to make things accessible to me.”
Erin Wilson is a 20-year-old instructional assistant at an elementary school. She was born with microphthalmia, which means that her left eye didn’t fully develop and her right eye has a visual acuity of 20/400.
During high school, Wilson was in orchestra and played the violin. She was auditioning to advance to a higher level of orchestra. Because of her visual impairment, she wasn’t able to read the sheet music and asked her teacher if he would play it for her once and that she’d be able to play it back to him.
“His response wasn’t the answer I was wanting to hear,” Wilson said. “He told me that if I wanted to move up to the next level, I needed to have sight to read the notes on the sheet music.”
Honyouti’s and Wilson’s advice to sighted people is to not be so quick to judge.
“We are capable of doing anything we want to, we just do things differently to complete our tasks,” Wilson said.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about blindness,” Honyouti said. “My advice is to ask questions rather than assuming.”
The next time that you see someone who is blind or visually impaired, don’t feel sorry for them or don’t think that we need to have everything handed to us. We know our limits and if we need help, we will ask for it.