I’ve lived with low vision all my life and in that time, I’ve had a multitude of questions thrown my way. Some were rational, some odd and some, quite honestly, a little uncouth. Today I’ve narrowed it down to the top five most asked questions I get as a legally blind person.
There are more, having a guide dog I frequently get asked questions about her, however, these are the most common I get asked, purely on the basis of my vision alone.
Wait…so can you see something?
A lot of people tend to get quite perplexed if I’m able to look at them or look in their direction when I talk to them. Equally, they get just as perplexed if I look at something on my phone or admire the colour of something in a clothes shop. However, I do still have some residual vision, as do many people living with sight loss around the world. Estimates suggest that around 10 percent of the population living with low vision are totally blind and can’t see anything at all, yet a lot of people don’t seem to know this.
Whenever I encounter this question, I always try to explain that there are many types of eye conditions that can impact different parts of the way we process sight from the eyes itself, to the optic nerves (like in my case) and the part of the brain that processes sight.
My answer to them is: “sight loss is a spectrum and not everyone who’s in it is totally blind.”
Won’t glasses help you?
If I had a pound coin for every time someone has asked me this question, I would be a very wealthy woman about now.
Whenever people ask me questions about my sight loss and what I can see it is usually followed by: “won’t glasses help?” or “have you thought about wearing glasses?”
I always try to answer their question as politely as possible, but I will admit that it does make me internally chuckle.
My most common answer to this is: “sadly no, I would be wearing them if they did?”
Sometimes I wonder if people don’t comprehend that surely if something as simple as glasses could fix or improve our sight problems, wouldn’t we have given it a go by now?
How are you using your phone when you can’t see?
It’s a known fact among many of us that sighted people are often very confused when they see visually impaired people using a phone. Let’s not generalise, there are of course a lot of people who would understand how accessibility works on phones these days. But when I’m out in public the number of comments I hear from people asking things like: “she’s blind and she’s using her phone?” or “how is that girl with a guide dog using a phone?”
Out of all the questions listed, I find this one the most uncomfortable because it often feels like people are trying to infer that I’m lying about my level of sight.
I remember a few years ago when a photo of a woman holding a long cane using her phone was shared on social media seemingly without her knowledge or consent.
This caused a huge response within the community and had many of us, myself included, sharing photos of us using our phones with #BlindPeopleUsePhones.
Things still haven’t changed, and I still get this question at least once a day when I’m out.
My response is: “with iPhones if you look under accessibility in the settings, you’ll find so many great features there for all kinds of disabled users, that’s how I can use it." Then I leave it up to them to explore and perhaps find something that could help them too.
Are you able to work?
As working woman in my 20s, I get this question a lot from people when they talk to me about my sight loss in many settings. I think some people can’t envisage how workplaces can and should adapt to accommodate visually impaired employees so that they can work.
I’m a full-time reporter for a paper, before that I worked part-time as a sales assistant and before that I worked as a student rep for my University. I’ve worked pretty much since the age I was able to work, it wasn’t easy to break into a full-time career, but I got there in the end. I’m proud of my achievements and in this scenario I’m happy to talk about them to help people understand what we are capable when we have a goal in mind.
Can your eyesight be cured?
Finally, a lot of people ask me this question when I describe my eyesight and how it impacts me. Usually, one question I get asked with a degree of sympathy is: “are there no cures you could try?”
Whilst I feel that this question comes from a place of genuine kindness, I always try to explain to people that even if there was a cure, I wouldn’t want it. My sight is my normal, I was born this way and I’ve never known any different. I don’t want a cure because in my mind, there isn’t anything to cure. I understand that that others may not feel the same as me, but all our feelings towards our disabilities are completely valid.
Being disabled I’ve learned that one thing people have a lot of is questions. For me personally, I don’t think it’s always about the content of the question that is the issue but the way they are asked. I believe that there’s nothing wrong with a sighted person wanting to understand more about visual impairment.
If a question is put to me like an accusation or if it sounds like they’re trying to catch me out on something I won’t feel as willing to answer it. But if people were to say something like: “I hope you don’t mind me asking but what do you use to do this” or “can you describe your vision to me?” I’d be happy to answer.
In short, it’s not what they say, it’s how they say it.
About The Author
Emily (she/her) is aged 28, is a London based journalist, content creator and disability advocate. She began her blog “Fashioneyesta” back in 2012 with the aim to create a space to challenge perceptions of sight loss through her love of beauty and style. Since then, she has written for many publications including Cosmopolitan, the Guardian, Metro, HuffPost and Disability Horizons. She has also appeared as a TV reporter for Channel 4 News and regularly works as a disability spokesperson on TV news. She now works with brands to help make their products more accessibility as an accessibility consultant and champions accessibility in the beauty and fashion industry.